Mickelson in the hunt at US Open
FOR all those runner-up finishes, with so much heartache chasing the major he covets, Phil Mickelson has never had a better chance to win the US Open.
It's the first time he has ever had the outright lead going into the final round. Of the nine players within five shots, only one has the experience of winning a major. And Tiger Woods went from contender to middle-of-the-pack by matching his worst US Open score as a pro.
Despite a bogey on the final hole at Merion in Ardmore, Pennsylvania - the 18th was so tough it didn't yield a single birdie in the third round -- Mickelson was the sole survivor to par on Saturday with an even-par 70 that gave him a one-shot lead over Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker and former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.
Mickelson was celebrating his 43rd birthday yesterday - on Father's Day in the United States, no less. He left Merion on Monday and didn't return until three hours before his tee time on Thursday so he could attend the eighth-grade graduation of his oldest daughter.
"It's got the makings to be something special," Mickelson said. "But I still have to go out and perform, and play some of my best golf."
He has been good enough to play 54 holes in 1-under 209.
And he was close to perfection when he stood on the par-3 17th hole with a 4-iron in his hand, 253 yards away from the orange wicker basket attached to the pin, the signature look at Merion. He was one shot behind Luke Donald until a pure swing and an 8-foot birdie putt gave him the lead.
Four others players who had been under par late in the round couldn't hang on.
Donald twice made poor swings with a 2-iron, and it cost him three shots. Mahan, Schwartzel and Justin Rose all finished bogey-bogey.
That left Mickelson alone at the top for only the second time in a major -- he won the 2006 Masters with the lead.
Woods started out just four shots out of the lead, and made a bending, 12-foot birdie putt on the opening hole.
It never got any better for the world's No. 1 player. He made seven bogeys the rest of the way and didn't add another birdie. It was the fourth time he shot 76 in the US Open, but never when he started out so close to the lead. Now, he's 10 shots behind.