Phil Mickelson is a five-time runner-up at the U.S. Open. No one has come so close so many times and fallen just short without having won once.
Thanks to stellar play throughout the week at Ardmore, Pennsylvania's difficult Merion Golf Club and a solid even-par 70 in Round 3, Mickelson has a chance to capture the championship that has evaded him for so long.
However, there are still plenty of other formidable foes giving chase to spoil Mickelson's 43rd birthday. 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel sits one shot back with Steve Stricker and Hunter Mahan, the latter two being star players who have never won a major.
Don't count out Justin Rose or Luke Donald either, as the English compatriots are vying for their maiden major triumph, too, and are at plus-one.
Let's take a look at the tee times and pairings as the season's second major winds down to what should be a phenomenal finish.
Complete List of Tee Times (*denotes amateur)
8:44 a.m.—Robert Karlsson
8:55 a.m.—Kevin Sutherland, Simon Khan
9:06 a.m.—Kyle Stanley, Shawn Stefani
9:17 a.m.—Peter Hedblom, Kevin Phelan*
9:28 a.m.—John Peterson, Michael Weaver*
9:39 a.m.—Martin Kaymer, David Howell
9:50 a.m.—Matt Weibring, Jim Herman
10:01 a.m.—Alistair Presnell, Mike Weir
10:12 a.m.—Dustin Johnson, Steven Alker
10:23 a.m.—Scott Stallings, Martin Laird
10:34 a.m.—Nicholas Thompson, Josh Teater
10:45 a.m.—Kevin Chappell, Geoff Ogilvy
10:56 a.m.—Russell Knox, George Coetzee
11:07 a.m.—Marcel Siem, Carl Pettersson
11:18 a.m.—Sergio Garcia, Webb Simpson
11:29 a.m.—K.J. Choi, David Hearn
11:40 a.m.—Bio Kim, Adam Scott
11:51 a.m.—Scott Langley, Hideki Matsuyama
12:02 p.m.—Matt Bettencourt, Tiger Woods
12:13 p.m.—Padraig Harrington, John Parry
12:24 p.m.—Matt Kuchar, John Huh
12:35 p.m.—Cheng Tsung-Pan*, Jamie Donaldson
12:46 p.m.—Brandt Snedeker, Mathew Goggin
12:57 p.m.—Morten Orum Madsen, Rory McIlroy
1:08 p.m.—Jerry Kelly, Jason Dufner
1:19 p.m.—Edward Loar, Bubba Watson
1:30 p.m.—Ernie Els, Bo Van Pelt
1:41 p.m.—Charley Hoffman, Lee Westwood
1:52 p.m.—Paul Lawrie, Paul Casey
2:03 p.m.—David Lingmerth, John Senden
2:14 p.m.—Ian Poulter, Nicolas Colsaerts
2:25 p.m.—Henrik Stenson, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano
2:36 p.m.—Michael Kim*, Rickie Fowler
2:47 p.m.—Jason Day, Billy Horschel
2:58 p.m.—Luke Donald, Justin Rose
3:09 p.m.—Steve Stricker, Charl Schwartzel
3:20 p.m.—Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan
Rickie Fowler Stirs Drama Early
We're waiting, checking our watches, scratching our heads, wondering the answer to one question: When will Rickie Fowler officially arrive?
Now let's be clear—in comparison to the other 99.999 to infinity percent of golfers on the planet, the American young gun has had immense success. There are many reasons he is No. 32 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
The knock on Fowler is that he doesn't win enough, as he has just one PGA Tour victory on his resume. Talk about a complete 180 for his career should he somehow charge from four shots behind and win on Sunday.
Fowler was sensational in the third round, posting the round of the day with a three-under 67. Anything can happen, and with Fowler's aggressive style, he should jump out of the gates with a hot start.
Though I believe Fowler will ultimately flame out down the stretch because of his perpetual tendency to pull off the risky shot and streaky putting, the 24-year-old will gain a lot of respect and perhaps use the higher finish as a launching point to more wins in the immediate future.
Heartbreak for Hunter
Hunter Mahan is in the final group with Mickelson, and has proven his mettle in match play in winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship last year then making it to the final again in 2013.
The last time—and, well, the only time—Mahan was in the thick of things at a U.S. Open was in 2009 at Bethpage State Park's notoriously difficult Black Course.
On the 71st hole, Mahan was in perfect position in the middle of the fairway on the par-four 17th before his approach caromed off the flagstick and off the putting surface. Instead of potentially having a close-range birdie putt, he bogeyed and tied for sixth.
It's quite a compelling case to argue Mahan as a potential champion this time around, though. Typically his iron play is the area that's most consistent, but Mahan has been scrambling extremely well while hitting just 61 percent of his greens.
PGATour.com's Amanda Balionis documented a notable comment Mahan made after his round of 69:
If Mahan continues to putt as he has and keeps leading the field in fairways hit, he's going to be tough to deny coming down the stretch. Unfortunately, it will all fall just a little bit short.
Phil Spills, Thrills and Wins
It would only be fitting that Mickelson would come off a runner-up finish last week at the FedEx St. Jude Classic to win the U.S. Open on his birthday and Father's Day.
Mickelson attended his daughter's eighth-grade graduation in San Diego and made it back just hours before his tee time. Other than a three-putt on his opening hole, though, it's been a fantastic week from Lefty to say the least.
Christine Brennan of USA Today highlighted one of many instances of Mickelson's class, as he signed autographs for fans in the dark after the grueling test at Merion on Saturday:
Win or lose, Mickelson will be humble, but I do think he finally pulls it off.
Having said that, the win won't come easy—because with Mickelson nothing ever is. What has been impressive is how he's dialed back on some of the shots that have cost him U.S. Opens before and taken what the course has yielded.
When he reaches the brutal final five holes, the ones that should make Mickelson sweat the most are Schwartzel, Rose and his playing competitor Mahan—simply because of their ball-striking prowess.
But Mickelson is the ultimate magician around the greens, and I have a feeling it will come down to a situation where all of these players will have to scramble for par.
That development would play right into Mickelson's hands. As long as he maintains the form he's shown all week and is his typical self with regard to the short game, he will be the 113th U.S. Open winner.
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