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US Open Golf 2013: Biggest Storylines to Follow Prior to Sunday at Merion

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US Open Golf 2013: Biggest Storylines to Follow Prior to Sunday at Merion
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Three rounds of the 2013 U.S. Open are complete, and Phil Mickelson sits alone atop the leaderboard at one-under par heading into Sunday at the second major of the 2013 PGA Tour season. 

That's right—only one player is under par through 54 holes in a major championship. 

A cluster of golfers including Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker and Charl Schwartzel are tied for second at even-par, while Justin Rose, Billy Horschel and Luke Donald are just two strokes off the pace heading into the final round. 

"Frustrating" has been an understatement so far for most of the field, as suggested by the number of high scores. Look no further than Horschel's reaction to this poor shot as evidence. 

GIF via B/R's Day 3 US Open stream

Jason Dufner's "here comes the putter throw" Happy Gilmore moment is an even better example. 

GIF via B/R's Day 3 US Open stream

It has been an interesting three days at Merion, with the weather and the shorter hole distances taking up a majority of the big storylines so far. However, with Sunday posing an entirely new challenge to the field, a new set of storylines begs your attention. 

Take a look at those factors below. 

*For a complete look at the 2013 U.S. Open leaderboard, click here. For a look at Sunday's tee times and pairings, check out USOpen.com. 

 

2013 U.S. Open Final Round Info

When: Sunday, June 16; first tee time is 8:44 a.m. ET

Where: Merion Golf Club East Course, Ardmore, Pa.

Watch: NBC

Radio: ESPN Radio

 

Storylines to Watch on Sunday

Merion's Dominance

Andrew Redington/Getty Images

High scores at Merion are nothing new—three of the four U.S. Open winners at the course shot even-par or worse in their victories (Olin Dutra, Lee Trevino and Ben Hogan). The fourth (David Graham in 1981) shot a seven-under, but that number won't be touched on Sunday. 

A rough week for these golfers allows us to pose an important question—will Merion ever host a U.S. Open again?

Reviews have been mixed to negative so far, with the USGA taking a lot of heat for picking a venue that might be the toughest place in the field for golfers during the 2013 PGA Tour season. 

Golf Digest had this tweet to try and conjure up some reasons why things were such a struggle this week:

ESPN's SportsCenter had a great example of those struggles:

Golf Channel's Jason Sobel also chimed in with a tweet about the difficulties of the course, with a description only a few could channel up:

It's been 32 years since the last U.S. Open at Merion, and after this weekend, it might be another 32 or more before the USGA puts its neck on the line for a course that may be too outdated for the players of this generation. 

Personally, I love the hard-nosed, stubborn way the course is playing; however, I'm not on the course with the Tour pros and feeling their frustration. Enjoy Merion on Sunday—we might not say that phrase again for a while. 

 

Stars at the Bottom

Andrew Redington/Getty Images

In keeping with the spirit of Merion being a difficult course, former Atlanta Braves great Chipper Jones chimed in on Twitter about how the stars shouldn't be shamed about a poor finish. 

The one-two-three combo he's referring to is of course Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott, who played together on the first two days of the tournament and didn't fare any better on the third. 

All three are eight-over or worse and well out of contention unless the course suddenly lends itself to the players at the bottom of the leaderboard who have struggled during the first three days. 

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

As you can see above, it likely won't. 

But each of these stars needs a strong round on Sunday to both gain some momentum in the race toward the final two majors of the season and for pride, if nothing else. The big names likely won't make a magical run, but seeing how they respond at the bottom of the board should be interesting to watch. 

 

Phil the Finisher

A bogey on No. 18 soured an otherwise solid day for Phil Mickelson on Saturday, and it is a nice segue into the idea that "Lefty" being able to finish at the U.S. Open will be in doubt until he does it on a Sunday. 

As ESPN's Trey Wingo noted, the history of the course isn't in his favor:

Neither is his own history, as ESPN's Stats & Info reminded us:

Mickelson has played a great three rounds so far, fighting through the early start on Thursday following his trip to see his daughter graduate from middle school. 

He doesn't often find himself near the big-time leaderboards, but with eight birdies and just seven bogeys, he has been the most consistent golfer on the course and managed to stay out of trouble—the big hole hasn't made him stumble yet. 

As Linda Cohn of ESPN put it, this would be the kind of Mickelson storyline that would lead us to watch the action on Sunday—it's like something out of a movie:

Or real life in other sports, as Sobel suggested:

A five-time runner-up at the U.S. Open, Mickelson needs a win at Merion and another at the British Open later in his career to complete the rare career grand slam on the PGA Tour. Is this the week he gets it done at the U.S. Open?

I wouldn't look away from the TV on Sunday if you want to find out. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report's Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter. 

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