Looking for major championship win No. 5, Phil Mickelson will enter the final round of the 2013 U.S. Open on Sunday with no one to chase and everyone to hold off at Merion Golf Club.
Can the lefty win his first career U.S. Open with a strong list of contenders that includes Luke Donald, Justin Rose, ChaelSchwartzel and Billy Horschel? You'll have to tune in to Sunday's final pairing of Mickelson and Hunter Mahan to find out.
*For a complete look at the 2013 U.S. Open leaderboard, check out PGATour.com.
In the meantime, we'll take a look at the lefty's first three days of action and give you a projection of what his final score is going to be at the East Course when sunset falls over Merion on Sunday.
Mickelson has made headlines each time he enters the U.S. Open over the last few years, but those headlines are usually centered around the fact that he's finished second or tied for second a PGA Tour record five times in this event.
Heck, we're still talking about it (via Jason Sobel of the Golf Channel):
Five runner-up finishes? No big deal. Optimism still reigns for Phil Mickelson tomorrow. My column: http://t.co/1G6j4HYztr
This year, he was making headlines for a different reason.
Skipping Open practice (via Kyle Porter of CBS Sports) to see his daughter's eighth grade graduation, Phil put himself in a tough spot on Thursday. He went straight from a flight due East from California to Merion, and he had one of the earliest tee times of the opening round.
No matter—Phil shot a three-under 67 and had the Day 1 lead as play was suspended due to darkness on Thursday evening.
After a downer two-over round on Friday, Phil stayed steady with a round of even par on Saturday in one of the longest groupings on the course. Even so, he had no problem sticking around and giving the fans what they came for (h/t USA Today's Christine Brennan):
What does Phil Mickelson do after that grueling 3rd round? Sign autographs for dozens of fans in the darkness. Really.
Despite the fact that he's playing great, in the hunt for the top of the leaderboard among greens in regulation (72.2 percent, sixth) and fairways in regulation (71.4 percent, 17th), Phil's biggest problem at the final round has been getting above his three-day average on the final day.
Here's a breakdown of Mickelson's five runner-up finishes at the US Open over the years.
As you can see, he's never been above his three-day average in the final round. Although he was close three different times, it's surprising to see that his brash and all-out style didn't lead to a flame out in one way or the other during the final round.
Consistency has been the name of the game so far in the final rounds of the Open, with the exception of the disappointing 74 in 2006. The question of the day will be Phil's final-round score—can he stay under the three-round average of 69.6 he's set through three days at Merion?
Looking at his first three scorecards, Phil is going to have to capitalize at four holes on the course in particular. Nos. 10, 11, 12 and 13 have been huge for the field, each hovering near or under the par number by average and producing the best four-hole chance to capitalize on hot play on the course.
JD Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
For example, Luke Donald's opening round was categorized by his three-straight birdie effort on Nos. 11-13, and the lefty has had birdies on three of the four holes during his three rounds so far. The kicker? He's also had bogeys on three of the holes.
If Mickelson wins out on these four holes (and I have a feeling he'll go two-under here after hitting the turn down the back nine), then we might be looking at history on Sunday in just the fifth time that Merion has hosted the US Open.
Sports are a funny game sometimes, and even though the numbers don't always side with you when they need to, the moments do. If the connection between the number five (Merion U.S. Opens, Phil's runner-up finishes, number of majors if he wins, the fact that he owns a Five Guys Burgers and Fries) isn't enough, maybe this tweet from Linda Cohn will sway you:
Phil Mickelson put fatherhood first at start of #USOpen. Fitting if Lefty can win his 1st US Open Sun on Father's Day, also his b-day.