Ardmore, Pa. — Phil Mickelson takes a one-stroke lead into the final round of the 2013 U.S. Open, but there are still nine players within five strokes of the lead heading into Sunday.
It's hard to win any major championship, but the combination of the major-championship pressure and the diabolical course conditions of this year's U.S. Open at Merion make the field fairly wide open entering the last day of competition.
Sure, Mickelson leads the tournament, but that doesn't mean he will still be in the lead by the time he finishes the first hole. With six players within two strokes of the lead, there is certainly no guarantee Mickelson will even have the lead by the time he tees off on Sunday.
Surely, given the way he has played this week and the fact he is leading by a stroke, Mickelson has to be the favorite heading into Sunday. That said, Phil has a pretty nasty history with the U.S. Open, finishing second five times with no victories. Heartbreak is all too familiar to Mickelson, even if Sunday is his birthday.
What players have a chance to win? Let's take a look.
Michael Kim was on the 16th tee on Saturday in third place of the U.S. Open, as an amateur. Perhaps the pressure of the situation got to him, or maybe the tough Merion course was too much for him to handle.
Kim finished his third round with bogey, double bogey, bogey and still managed to shoot a 71. On the 16th tee box, he was even par for the tournament and now sits at plus-four. He is the longest of long shots, but he is within five strokes of the lead, so anything could happen.
Rickie Fowler was so distant a thought in this U.S. Open that he was in one of the groups to tee off on the 11th hole, clearly in the lower half of those who made the cut.
Fowler shot a 67, best in the field, on Saturday to get himself back into contention at plus-three. He has eight players ahead of him, but posting another score like 67 would make him a threat to all those ahead of him still on the course.
Fowler is another long shot to win, but it would be a pretty sneaky way to pull out his first major championship.
If it wasn't for Rickie Fowler's round of 67, Jason Day would have had the most impressive third round of the tournament, carding a two-under-par 68. Day could have been in even better position heading into Sunday, but was let down by a bogey on the 18th hole.
Day is a fantastic player, and it certainly would not surprise anyone to see him holding the trophy as a U.S. Open champion. Still, there are seven players ahead of him, and despite the fact that most are just one or two shots ahead, he does enter Sunday's round three strokes back from the lead.
It's not insurmountable, and Day has the grinder mentality needed to win a U.S. Open, so he is definitely one player who may make an early move to put pressure on those behind him.
Billy Horschel was stuck between Luke Donald and Phil Mickelson in the third round and, given the circumstances and the difficulty of the course, played about as well as anyone could have expected, posting a two-over 72.
Horschel, now one-over for the tournament, said he was trying to be too perfect on the greens, which hurt him more than it helped.
"You know what, I didn't have my best stuff today," he said. "Obviously I'm not going to hit 18 greens in a row like I did yesterday. That's a feat in itself. But I hit the ball good enough to play well. Unfortunately, I putted very bad. My speed was bad."
It would be a great shock for Horschel to win this tournament, even though he has played well through three rounds and seems to thrive in the spotlight, not shy away from it.
There was a time in the third round where it felt like Justin Rose could run away with the tournament. After a birdie on the tough fourth hole, he bogeyed five and six, but came back to birdie 10 and 13 and looked in great shape heading into Sunday.
Then, the last two holes hit, with Rose going bogey-bogey to finish one-over par. Rose has the talent to win a major championship, and throughout this week, he has shown he has equal resolve and determination.
It seems odd to give Luke Donald better odds than Justin Rose considering how he finished his third round bogey-double bogey to fall to one-over par despite leading most of the day.
Donald didn't really fall apart on the last two holes as much as he just wasn't able to hit the long shot required on those diabolical holes. Donald described what happened at the end:
I played a solid round today other than those last two holes. Could have been even better. Through 16 holes, I could have been four- or five‑under and really was playing as good a golf as I played for awhile.
They're long. I'm standing on 17 and it's 253 yards, I got to carry that ridge at about 240. For me that's a lot, a huge, big two‑iron for me. Eighteen is 521 yards. It's just, they're long holes.
He still has to play those holes on Sunday, so he may have the same issues. Outside of those holes, Donald was very solid on Saturday. He'll need more of that consistency to win.
Hunter Mahan is in a great position. He has the entire field ahead of him, so he knows what he has to do on each hole to keep pace with the field, and with his playing partner, Phil Mickelson. Mahan has long been in that category of the best players never to win a major, but recently, his game hasn't been what it once was.
Having said that, it sure is this week. Mahan is leading the tournament in putting with an average of 1.57 per hole. Like Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Charl Schwartzel, Mahan was unable to card a par on either of the last two holes, moving him from potentially being in the lead going into Sunday to falling one behind Mickelson.
He is a solid player, but there are still three I would pick ahead of him.
Charl Schwartzel is a Masters champion, and throughout the week, he has been showing the ability to grind out hole after hole.
Like many other contenders, Schwartzel was in line for a fantastic round on Saturday before succumbing to the perils of the quarry holes that close a round at Merion. He went bogey-bogey to end his round at one-under, even par for the tournament.
He is sneaky and unassuming, but he is a fantastic player whose game—and swing—is perfectly suited for more majors.
Steve Stricker is officially a part-time PGA Tour player, but he sure isn't playing like there is any rust to his game. Stricker won't wow anyone with a run of birdies, but he will grind out par after par until he can find his spot to get a stroke back when he can.
His lone blemish on Saturday was a double bogey on the ninth hole after putting his tee shot into the creek. He and Billy Horschel were the only players of the top seven contenders to not have a bogey on either of the last two holes after making a fantastic par save on 18.
It's sort of amazing that Stricker hasn't won a major before, especially given the last four or five years of his career. The crowd would love it if Stricker could pull out a win; that enthusiasm might help drive him around the course on Sunday.
Is this the year for Lefty? He left the driver at home and has been hitting three-woods and long irons off the tees. He loves the setup at Merion and has played the course exactly how the designers intended it, getting pars on the hard holes and attacking the birdie opportunities.
He is inches away from having already locked up the trophy, but several missed putts have hurt him. Hopefully for Mickelson, they won't haunt him.
All quotes obtained firsthand.