Published June 16, 2013
ARDMORE, Pa. – Five things to look for Sunday in the final round of the U.S. Open:
PHIL's DAY? Sure seems like it's setting up to be. Sunday is Phil Mickelson's 43rd birthday. And, yes, it's Father's Day for the golfer who made time this week to fly cross-country for his daughter's eighth-grade graduation. And it'll also be the first time Mickelson will enter the final round of a U.S. Open with the outright lead. He's been runner-up a record five times, but he's been a cool finisher this week, making birdie at 18 in the second round to move into a tie for the lead, then taking the solo spot atop the leaderboard with a birdie at 17 on Saturday.
CAN STRICKER CLEAR A MAJOR HURDLE? He's never won one, and he's running out of time at age 46. Stricker's steady-as-she-goes game has him one stroke off the lead, but he's never finished well when he's been in the mix going into Sunday at a major championship. He's in a different frame of mind these days, having cut back his schedule to spend more time with family and more time practicing for the big events. He says that's made a difference this week. Only one bad hole Saturday — a double-bogey at No. 9 — helps validate his plan.
HOW ABOUT ONE FOR KING AND COUNTRY? If it seems like forever since Merion hosted a U.S. Open, how about the eternity it's been since an Englishman won one. Go back to Tony Jacklin in 1970 to find the Cross of St. George flag next to the winner's name. Those with a shot Sunday include Justin Rose and Luke Donald, both two shots off the pace at 1 over. Ian Poulter is six back. Paul Casey and Lee Westwoord are seven behind, but that's good enough for a tie for 16th after three rounds.
WHAT'S UP WITH TIGER? He's nine shots off the lead after a 6-over 76, matching his worst U.S. Open score as a pro. His bothersome left elbow didn't seem to be a factor this time, as it was in the first two rounds. Instead, he couldn't get a feel for the severe slopes on the greens and needed 36 putts to get around the course. His last major win was the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008. His average of 32 putts per round this week is the primary reason why his drought of five years is virtually certain to become five-plus.
WILL ANYONE BIRDIE 18? No one did in the third round. The average score at the finishing hole was 4.74, making it again the hardest on the course. Approach shots that landed on the green kept rolling and rolling, coming to rest in the nasty rough and making it essentially look like a poorly-designed par 5. Charl Schwartzel was so apprehensive about the undulating green that he marked his ball and reset himself before attempting a 1-foot putt for bogey.