ARDMORE, Pa. — Phil Mickelson has had more heartaches at the U.S. Open than any player in history. That’s because he’s had more second-place finishes at the U.S. Open than any player in history.
Mickelson, who has been a runner-up five times, gets another chance today to win the major championship he covets most when he carries a one-shot lead into the final round of the 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.
And he thinks he is as ready as ever to not add to his dubious record.
“Let’s go, I can’t wait to get back out,” Mickelson said. “It’s got the makings to be something special.”
Mickelson is the only player under par after three rounds at Merion after shooting 70 Saturday to finish at 1-under 209. That is good for a one-shot lead on Steve Stricker, Hunter Mahan, and 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel heading into the final round.
It is the third day in a row Mickelson has either held or shared the lead at Merion.
Mickelson has had the third-round lead at the U.S. Open only once before, and that was in 2006 at Winged Foot, scene of the biggest heartache of all. That’s when he tried to hit a high-risk recovery shot from the trees and double-bogeyed the final hole to hand the title to Geoff Oglivy.
“I love being in the thick of it,” Mickelson said. “”It’s been so fun, even though it’s been heart-breaking. I feel better equipped heading into the final round than I think I’ve ever been.”
While nearly all the players around him kept falling away in Merion’s brutal closing stretch, Mickelson did the opposite. He narrowly missed birdies at Nos. 15 and 16 before energizing the huge grandstand crowd at No. 17, the 245-yard par 3, when he hit a 4-iron to 10 feet and made birdie to jump into the lead.
“The 4-iron I hit, I just stood there and admired it,” Mickelson said
But after hitting a 4-wood approach from 274 yards through the green at No. 18, Mickelson made bogey at the finishing hole to shrink his lead to one.
The par-4 18th hole, which was playing at 530 yards, did not yield a birdie in the third round — the first time in three days a hole did not have a birdie. It has played as the toughest hole in the tournament with a 4.71 stroke average.
“Every shot requires great focus,” Mickelson said. “It’s just a penalizing golf course.”
Mickelson has three Masters titles and a PGA Championship on his resume, but he will have five of the top 22 players in the world chasing him in his attempt to add another.
Stricker, who made 15 pars in a round of 70, is one shot back at 210. He was the only player among the top six on the leaderboard to par the final two holes Saturday. He is tied with Schwartzel and Mahan, each of whom bogeyed the final two holes.
Stricker’s only mistake was a double bogey at the par-3 ninth when he watered his tee shot. But he made up the shots with birdies at No. 10 and 12.
“It would mean a lot, it really would,” Stricker said. “But it’s going to be a challenge. I’m not the longest hitter in the field. There are some holes out here that I really have to work hard to make par.”
Luke Donald (71), who played the final two holes in 3 over; and Justin Rose (71), who also bogeyed the final two holes, are another shot back at 211. They are tied with Billy Horschel, who began the day as the second-round co-leader with Mickelson.
Only Schwartzel has won a major championship among the other contenders.
“I should have done better,” Donald said. “It was disappointing.”
Donald, who had made six consecutive pars on the back after a birdie at No. 10, bogeyed No. 17 from the green-side bunker to fall out of a tie with Mickelson, his playing partner. Then, at the 18th, he tried to gouge his third shot from the nasty rough below the green and saw his ball careen left across the putting surface. The ensuing double bogey dropped Donald into a tie with Rose.
Schwartzel bounced back from a bogey at the second hole to make four birdies in the next eight holes. But, after holding the lead for most of the day, he bogeyed the final two holes to shoot 69 — one of six sub-par scores on the day.
“Whenever you shoot under par on Saturday at the U.S. Open, you can’t be too disappointed,” Schwartzel said.
Tiger Woods looks as though he will continue his five-year victory drought in major championships after shooting 76. He is at 9-over 149.
It is the second poor performance in a row for Woods, who already has four PGA Tour victories in 2013.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Gerry Dulac is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.