Final Round at Merion Should Provide Plenty of Theater
By Dave Shedloski
ARDMORE, Pa. – So much redemption at stake and only one U.S. Open Trophy to go around.
Phil Mickelson leads the 113th U.S. Open after 54 holes, his 1-under 209 total the only score under par on Merion Golf Club’s East Course. Mickelson also is the clubhouse leader in sentimentality for today’s final round.
This is the father who returned home for his daughter’s elementary school event and now can win his first U.S. Open title on Father’s Day – after setting a record with his five runner-up finishes in this championship.
Behind him are a group of contenders with their own designs on winning the U.S. Open, be it Steve Stricker, who at 46 can set the record as the oldest champion, or England’s Luke Donald, who once rose to No. 1 in the world without the benefit of a major title. He can quiet plenty of critics. And what about Hunter Mahan, the 1999 U.S. Junior champion? Or 2007 and 2009 USA Walker Cup star Rickie Fowler, who has but one win to his credit as a professional when much more was expected of him?
Justin Rose, another Englishman, would fulfill the promise he showed as a teenager by finishing fourth in the British Open those many years ago at Royal Birkdale. And then there is Jason Day, who finished second at Congressional Country Club two years ago. Day led the 2013 Masters after 70 holes only to bogey the last two and watch countryman Adam Scott break through.
“It’s a great leader board,” Johnny Miller remarked during NBC’s television coverage. “Guys who just really need a major.”
Mickelson needs this major, given his history with it.
“I don't think I feel any more pressure than anybody else who wants to win the tournament, a major championship, the U.S. Open,” he said. “But it would certainly mean a lot to me that this is a tournament for years I've had opportunities, I've come close to, and it would mean a lot tomorrow if I could play some of my best golf.”
Donald understands urgency, too.
“When you look at Phil, he started winning majors around 34 or 35. So I think that I have some time on my side, luckily, in this game,” Donald said. “I got to No. 1 in the world and I've won a great amount of tournaments around the world, but I would dearly love to win one of these.”
What needs no redemption is Merion’s East Course. Thirty-two years after David Graham picked her apart with a sterling 7-under-par 273 total, one off the U.S. Open record at the time, Merion has more than regained her dignity, holding off all but the left-handed Mickelson from sub-par scoring after three rounds.
Indeed, no matter what happens, Merion’s reputation is secure.
“This is the best U.S. Open setup I have ever seen,” Mickelson said.
“I think it's a good mix of holes, a good test of golf,” said Australia’s John Senden. “The conditions, soft at the moment, is a blessing for the players, I think. I'd hate to be here and it hadn't rained at all, it would be tough.”
“It's a tough day overall for most players out there,” said Henrik Stenson of Sweden, who begins the final round tied for 11th. “It's as tricky as it gets. We can talk about all the pin positions and slopes and ending up slightly in the wrong place, but it's tough.”
It is tough, but it’s the U.S. Open, and tough is to be expected.
And it’s tough to think only one player can win when so many worthy contenders are packed together. Fifteen players are within six shots.
Mickelson, again, has more to play for than anyone else. He turns 43 today. How many more chances will he have? A few perhaps. But how many more good chances?
Father’s Day. A birthday. The U.S. Open.
“It's got the makings to be something special,” Lefty allowed, “but I still have to go out and perform and play some of my best golf.”
That’s usually what it takes.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on usopen.com.