Published June 16, 2013
ARDMORE, Pa. – Phil Mickelson made eagle from the rough at the 10th hole and Justin Rose was sinking long birdie putts as the two took turns atop the leaderboard on the back nine Sunday in the final round of the U.S. Open.
And then it started to pour at the Merion Golf Club.
Standing to the right of the fairway at the short par-4, Mickelson hit a shot that barely cleared a bunker, landing on the green and rolling some 10 feet into the hole. It was the only eagle of the day at the hole and just the 11th of the tournament, and it put him temporarily in the lead.
The shot helped make up for Mickelson's earlier miscues, including a pair of double bogeys in the first five holes, but he was in good company. Merion turned out to be a place where golfers could post big numbers and live to tell the tale -- or at least tread water with everyone else.
Rose had his share of misadventures -- including a missed 5-foot putt for par at No. 3 -- but he sank long birdies on the 6th and 7th, then moved ahead of Mickelson with a 20-footer at No. 13. Rose was trying to become the first Englishman to win the championship since Tony Jacklin in 1970.
It was hard to count out anyone who had a place near the top on the board. Jason Day was cruising until he hit a shot from rough to creek at No. 11 and made bogey. Hunter Mahan was the steadiest of them all, his reliable putter yielding eight pars and one bogey on the front nine.
At least they were still in the hunt. Others fell out of contention quickly.
Steve Stricker's hopes for a first major took a hit when he put two shots out of bounds at No. 2 and settled for an 8. He shot 41 on the front nine.
Luke Donald hit a volunteer with a tee shot on No. 3 and on No. 4, took off his left shoe and sock to play his ball next to Cobbs Creek. He shot a 42 through nine holes.
Charl Schwartzel went briefly under par, then went the other way with a streak of bogeys on his front-nine 42.
Mickelson was the overnight leader at 1-under, but Lefty was scrambling from the start. His tee shot at the first landed in the rough, but he nearly birdied the hole when his 30-footer lipped out. He was in the sand at No. 2 yet missed a short putt for birdie. He finally paid the price for his waywardness when he put one in a bunker at the par-3 No. 3 and then 3-putted for a 5 that left no one under par for the tournament.
Mickelson turned 43 on Sunday and fans serenaded him with a chorus of "Happy Birthday" when he showed up at the practice range before his afternoon tee time.
But nothing was going to be easy on a take-your-time course where high rough and hard greens have made for slow rounds, and the rain made a Monday finish a realistic scenario -- even without a playoff.
Mickelson was hoping to finally win the championship after finishing runner-up a record five times. Stricker, at age 46, is running out of time to win his first major. Both are famously proud papas: Mickelson flew cross-country on the eve of the tournament after watching his daughter graduate from eighth grade, and Stricker has been playing less on the PGA Tour to spend more time with his family.
Then there was Mahan, who is not quite a dad. On a day when seemingly every golfer was talking about the special day on Twitter, Mahan chimed in with: "Happy Fathers Day to everyone! A couple months before I get to join the club!"
All were taking aim at the red wicker baskets that sit atop the pins at Merion, all trying to follow Olin Dutra, Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino and David Graham as U.S. Open champions who conquered the tough little course in the Philadelphia suburbs.
While the leaders were waiting to tee off, Tiger Woods went through the motions of extending his majors drought into a sixth year. It was an unfamiliar sight to see the world's No. 1 golfer teeing off on a Sunday more than three hours before the top pairing, but he was 10 strokes off the lead after a third-round 76 that matched his worst U.S. Open round as a pro.
Woods wore his usual Sunday red shirt, but it didn't keep him from quickly achieving a dubious double -- out of bounds and a 3-putt on the same hole. That made for a triple-bogey 8 at No. 2. He shot a 74 to finish 13 over par.
Sunday was five years to the day since Woods won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. His running tally of majors wins is stuck on 14, four shy of Jack Nicklaus' record.
"I did a lot of things right," Woods said. "Unfortunately, I did a few things wrong as well."
Hopes for a Grand Slam were also officially dashed. Masters champion Adam Scott shot a 75 to finish 15 over for the tournament.
Meanwhile, Shawn Stefani found a unique way to solve Merion: Hit the ball in the rough and get a hole-in-one. His 4-iron at the 229-yard, par-3 17th landed left of the green, bounced down the slope and meandered its way some 50 feet across the green and into the hole.
Stefani nearly jumped out of his skin. Then he kissed the spot where the ball landed.
"We're in Philly," he said. "There's some great fans up here, and I know they can be tough on you and they can love you forever. So I'm sure they appreciated me going to the ground and kissing it."