The 2013 U.S. Open wraps up on Sunday, with Phil Mickelson holding the 54-hole advantage at one under par overall by one stroke over CharlSchwartzel, Hunter Mahan and Steve Stricker.
With the notable exception of Stricker, though, everyone struggled during the third round on the closing holes. Making par at the intimidating par-four 18th might as well be considered a birdie in light of this statistic from the AP's Doug Ferguson:
No birdies on the 18th. First time that happened at a US Open since no one made birdie on the first hole at Oakmont in 3rd round of '07.
Other big names in the hunt include Justin Rose, Luke Donald and rising American 27-year-old Billy Horschel, who are all a single shot further back at plus one.
Be sure to stay up to date with the latest from these contenders on Sunday as the drama at Ardmore, Pennsylvania's Merion Golf Club unfolds. We'll start by looking at those near the top, beginning with final group members Mickelson and Mahan.
Note: Past tournaments and season statistics were obtained from PGATour.com. U.S. Open statistics are courtesy of the championship's official website.
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In hitting 71 percent of fairways and 72 percent of greens in regulation this week, Mickelson has given himself every opportunity to succeed and finally notch the third leg of the career Grand Slam.
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The British Open has always baffled Lefty to the point where he hasn't consistently contended, but the major championship on his native side of the pond has been consistently crushing.
Mickelson has finished runner-up a record five times without winning. For someone who owns the ninth-most victories of all-time on the PGA Tour with 41, it's hard to believe a champion of his caliber couldn't have at least one U.S. Open trophy.
It's not as if he 54-hole lead he has is safe given how tough Merion is playing, but Mickelson has been the steadiest player all week. No big numbers have been made, and he's made just enough putts to remain on top.
Whatever happens will be exciting, because it always is with the newly-turned 43-year-old. It's amazing he keeps such a full head of hair with all the self-induced stress he causes himself on the golf course, but nevertheless, here's to Mickelson finally getting it done. Maybe.
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Bogeys at Nos. 17 and 18—or worse—are becoming an increasingly common score, and Mahan dropped a shot at both of them to finish with a one-under 69. Even still, it was good enough to be in the last group with Mickelson.
Other than those late miscues, the only true nitpicking analysts could do when dissecting Mahan's Saturday came in the form of his colorful wardrobe.
Stephanie Wei chimed in, as did Shane Bacon of Yahoo! The fun-poking is something Mahan can probably take in stride given the quality of golf he's playing, but the fashion critics' consensus was negative:
Is Hunter Mahan color blind?? Baby blue, orange-red, grey and lime green. #sourskittles
Mahan is definitely in the conversation among best players who never have tasted a major victory, and he is putting himself in good position consistently in Ardmore, leading the field in fairways hit.
Given his success in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship—which he triumphed in 2012 and finished second this year—it's feasible that Mahan could grind out late pars and set himself up for a legitimate run at the trophy.
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The bogey train that Mahan rode on the last two holes apparently rubbed off on Schwartzel, too—or vice versa—or they rubbed off on each other.
Either way, it was a less-than-ideal finish for the South African stalwart, who was minus three through 10 holes on Saturday but couldn't capitalize on some of the back nine's more birdieable holes, particularly Nos. 11 through 13.
Schwartzel closed out his win at Augusta National with four straight birdies, proving that he can get into the zone effectively in crunch time.
Sometimes casual fans forget just impressive that finish was because Schwartzel's biggest impressions since then have been overseas rather than on the PGA Tour. The Masters was his only win away form the European circuit and Schwartzel's native South African Sunshine Tour.
Golf Channel's Jason Sobel poked some fun at Schwartzel's selective American exploits when he briefly led days ago, comparing a prospective U.S. Open win by Schwartzel to Angel Cabrera's two wins in the United States:
Charl Schwartzel leads the U.S. Open. He's trying to win the Angel Cabrera Cup: Two wins in the U.S., two major championships.
But hey, Schwartzel's previous efforts have to count for something, and a win here would confirm his status as a superstar rather than a bright talent who never built on his first raging success on the global stage.
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An ugly double bogey on the par-three ninth hole after his tee shot found the water could have started a downward spiral for Stricker, whose schedule is significantly limited.
The 46-year-old has elected to spend more time at home with his family, and hadn't competed in a month entering this event. Whatever he's done is working, because at age 46, he's in the hunt for his first major.
Stricker's lack of length gives him a disadvantage at times, yet he was one of only two players in the top five who avoided bogeys on the last two holes.
Who will win the U.S. Open on Sunday?
Who will win the U.S. Open on Sunday?
In fact, Stricker was the definition of steady on Saturday with the exception of the aforementioned plunked ball in the drink. He started with eight consecutive pars, and got through Nos. 14 through 18 by parring.
What's helped is Stricker's iron play, which has him tied for second with Billy Horschel in greens in regulation percentage.
Considering how well Stricker can roll the rock, too, perhaps it isn't crazy to count him out down the stretch—even if the closing two holes give him more of a challenge than other players with superior physical firepower.