Bethesda, MD – Phil Mickelson is on the cusp of winning the U.S. Open Championship for the first time.
Haven't we been here before?
The four-time major champion is a five-time runner up at the season's second major. No one has finished second at the Open more than Mickelson has. There are far more numbers against him heading into the final round than there are working for him.
As for the historical notes working for him, Mickelson has won three of the four times in which he had at least a share of the 54-hole lead in a major championship.
And today is his 43rd birthday, so karma should be on his side. Right?
On the flip side, the overwhelming data says Mickelson won't be able to hold his lead.
Mickelson has won just one of the last four times he led a tour event going into the final round. Just five of the last 17 majors champions were among the 54-hole leaders.
The third-round leader of the U.S. Open has won 49 times. And Mickelson is trying to become the seventh player in U.S. Open history to in wire-to-wire fashion. Interesting numbers until you remember this is the 113th U.S. Open.
Only 11 of the 22 PGA Tour winners this season were the 54-hole leader.
Finally, maybe the harshest stat Mickelson has to overcome? Of the four previous U.S. Open winner at Merion, none were the 54-hole leader.
As you can tell, there is a lot of data that shows you why he won't win. Another reason he has a chance to win, he has had just seven bogeys and eight birdies all week.
That's it. No eagles, no double-bogeys, no dreaded others. If he can keep that up, someone will likely have to shoot 68 or better to beat him.
Mickelson shares sixth place in greens in regulation for the week, yet ranks tied for 29th in putting average.
Among his closest pursuers, Steve Stricker and Billy Horschel share second in GIR, while Rose shares sixth with Mickelson.
The putting average numbers favor Hunter Mahan, who shares the lead for the week, and Donald, who is tied for fourth. Stricker is tied for 37th in putting average.
If Mickelson can continue to stay away from the big numbers, it'll take a special round for someone to beat him.
But will there be demons in Mickelson's head? The only time he had the 54-hole lead at the U.S. Open was in 2006 at Winged Foot.
I think we all remember what happened there.
With that in mind, here's how the past five U.S. Opens have been won:
STEADY SIMPSON GRABS THE TITLE (2012)
Looking at the 2012 U.S. Open, the players closest to Phil Mickelson's lead heading into the final round are hoping to replicate what Webb Simpson and Michael Thompson accomplished last year.
Thompson, the first-round leader, posted a 67 in the final round to get to plus-2 for the championship. He sat and watched as Simpson did what he had to do to win.
Simpson was 5-over par through 36 holes, then eased his way into contention with a 2-under 68 in round three. He still trailed by four shots heading into the final round,
After falling even further behind Jim Furyk early in the final round, Simpson charged into the lead with four birdies in a 5-hole span from the sixth. Over the final eight holes, he did what is almost always best in U.S. Opens -- make pars.
Eight of the them in fact. After he signed his scorecard, Simpson sat and watched.
Graham McDowell birdied No. 17 to get within one, but he failed to birdie the last.
Furyk was one back with two holes to go. He had just over 20 feet for birdie at 17, but his birdie chance stayed above ground. His approach at the last buried in a greenside bunker. He blasted into another bunker on his way to a closing bogey, which left him two back.
With that, Simpson was a first-time major champion. All it took was a pair of 68s on the weekend.
MCILROY'S RECORD REBOUND (2011)
Rory McIlroy seemed on the verge of his first major title at the 2011 edition of the Masters, where he carried a four-shot lead into the final round. But the Northern Irishman endured a disastrous back nine, carded an 80, and finished in a tie for 15th.
A couple months later, McIlroy found himself at Congressional and rebounded in a big way. He opened with a 6-under 65, followed with a 66 and followed with a 68 to give himself an eight-shot cushion heading into Sunday.
Not only did McIlroy not melt down, but he maintained his enormous margin on the way to the title, thanks to an aggressive approach in the final round.
He opened with a 12-foot birdie putt to extend his lead to nine strokes, and tapped in for birdie at four. He managed nice par saves at two, five and six.
Then, on the back nine, McIlroy maintained his form. At the demanding par-3 10th hole, he spun his tee shot within a foot and drained the birdie to reach 17-under. He stumbled to a bogey at 12, but got the stroke back four holes later and never did anything to jeopardize his lead.
In all, McIlroy set or tied 12 separate records last year. Among them, his score of 16-under 268 set marks for lowest score and lowest score in relation to par in U.S. Open history. McIlroy also became the youngest winner of the championship since Bobby Jones in 1923, and was the third player in U.S. Open history to post four rounds in the 60s.
MCDOWELL AS LAST MAN STANDING (2010)
After tapping in for par on the final hole in 2010, McDowell looked toward the sky and exhaled. He was the last man standing on a brutal Sunday at Pebble Beach that chewed up some of the world's best players.
McDowell -- like McIlroy, from Northern Ireland -- became the first European in 40 years to win the U.S. Open after closing with a 3-over 74 for a one- shot victory over Gregory Havret of France.
Hanging on down the stretch, McDowell laid up and made a two-putt par at the 18th hole to clinch the first major championship of his career. But the day was a nightmare for so many others, especially Dustin Johnson.
Beginning the round with a three-shot lead, Johnson was out of contention by the seventh hole, an epic collapse that included a triple bogey at No. 2, where he took one of his shots left-handed. He missed a short putt at the 18th hole that would have been his only birdie of the day and finished with an 82 that left him five shots back.
Woods and Mickelson also hacked their way out of the championship, combining for nine bogeys and just three birdies on a day when simply breaking 70 would have won them the title. Els had a share of the lead, but his misadventures included a shot over the grassy cliff at No. 10.
How ugly was last year's final round? Among the last 24 players on the course, no one broke par. But McDowell did just enough to end on top of them all.
THE GLOVER ONE (2009)
Lucas Glover made it through a qualifier to get into the 2009 U.S. Open, then won it exactly two weeks later, the unlikely champion of a Monday finish that began with so many possibilities for a storybook ending.
It wasn't the final chapter everyone expected at the rain-soaked championship, but then little went as planned in five stop-and-start days at soggy Bethpage Black.
Things certainly fell apart for Mickelson, David Duval and Ricky Barnes on the final day, but Glover managed to scratch out a 3-over 73 to win his first major at a championship where he'd never even made the cut before.
He beat Mickelson, Duval and Barnes by two shots, becoming only the sixth qualifier since 1960 to win the U.S. Open.
Mickelson had tied him for the lead -- and electrified the crowd -- with a 25- foot birdie putt at the 12th hole and a 4-footer for eagle at the 13th. But he made two costly bogeys after that and posted his record-setting fifth runner-up finish at the U.S. Open -- including fourth in New York. The heartbreaker came just over a week before his wife, Amy, began treatment for breast cancer.
Duval, playing that week as the 882nd-ranked golfer in the world, also earned a share of the lead with three straight birdies on the back nine as he tried to capture his first win since the 2001 British Open. But he missed a 6-foot par putt on the next hole, the 17th, and came up short.
Barnes, the former U.S. Amateur champ who set a 36-hole U.S. Open scoring record that McIlroy broke, folded under the weight of playing in the last group of a major and made seven bogeys for a 76.
ON SHREDDED KNEE (2008)
Is it possible to be too hyperbolic about the 2008 U.S. Open? Probably. But the fact remains that Tiger's 91-hole win over Rocco Mediate that year -- on a severely disabled leg that required surgery soon after -- remains one of the enduring legacies of Woods' on-the-course legend.
The Monday playoff at Torrey Pines was something: Mediate, though overmatched in talent, took Woods past 18 holes and to a 19th before losing.
But it was peanuts compared to what happened during two electrifying days over the weekend.
First came Woods' Saturday charge. Limping and using his club like a cane, he took the 54-hole lead with a highlight-filled third round that included a 70- foot downhill eagle putt with six feet of break, a chip-in birdie from beside the green and another long eagle putt -- three signature moments in a six-hole span.
Then, on Sunday, Mediate could only stand and watch on a TV nearby as Woods rolled in a 14-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole Sunday to tie him for the lead and force the playoff.
The championship, shown during primetime on the East Coast through Sunday, scored great ratings and made a sympathetic hero out of Mediate. But it was better for Woods, of course, who won his 14th major to move within four of Jack Nicklaus' all-time record.
As we all know, he hasn't captured one since.
ANGEL SMOKES THE STARS (2007)
Smoking cigarettes and sweating, Angel Cabrera won Argentina's first major championship in 40 years when he shot a 1-under 69 in the final round at prickly Oakmont in 2007.
The score by Cabrera, who has since won the Masters, was good enough to hold off Woods and Furyk by a shot.
He carded two of only eight sub-70 rounds recorded that year, holding his foot on the pedal till the end and benefiting from mistakes by his closest competitors.
After making back-to-back bogeys from the 16th to fall into a tie with Furyk, Cabrera smashed a 350-yard drive at the 18th and made par, placing the pressure on his more-experienced challengers. They didn't respond, leaving Cabrera with a moment that defined his career until that point.