Phil Mickelson moved a step closer to one of his biggest goals, a US Open title, as he emerged from a see-saw third round battle at Merion to take a one-shot lead into yesterday’s final round.
Mickelson rolled in a nine-foot birdie putt at the 254-yard 17th hole to leapfrog playing partner Luke Donald, who slipped out of the lead with a bogey on the mammoth par-three.
Four-times major winner Mickelson, looking for his first US Open title after finishing runner-up a record five times, bogeyed the daunting 18th hole, but still came away with the lead after completing an even-par 70 for a one-under-par 209 total.
“It is a hard challenge, but it is a lot of fun,” Mickelson said. “Let’s go. I can’t wait to get back out playing.”
One shot back after a rousing battle atop the leaderboard were 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, who posted 69, and Americans Hunter Mahan (69) and Steve Stricker (70).
Former world No. 1 Donald, who double-bogeyed the 18th after struggling with the deep rough to finish with a 71, was another shot adrift at one-over 211 along with fellow Englishman Justin Rose (71) and 36-hole co-leader Billy Horschel (72).
“I should have done better,” Donald said, who had taken sole possession of the lead after Schwartzel and Mahan both bogeyed the 17th. “It was disappointing, but I’ll take the positives out of today, a really solid 16 holes of golf that I played and I’m only two back.”
Mickelson, the leader after each round, fell from top spot after a bogey on the third hole, but came alive on the back nine with three birdies to fight his way back on a tumultuous day that saw a slew of competitors take turns in charge.
The big left-hander said he felt better placed to tackle the challenge of winning the US Open this time around.
“I feel better equipped than I have ever felt heading into the final round of a US Open,” Mickelson said. “My ball striking is better than it’s ever been. My putting is better than it has been in years, and I feel very comfortable on this golf course. I love it.”
“Given that I’ve had some past major championships now and some success here ... I think it’s going to be fun. I don’t think I feel any more pressure than anybody else who wants to win,” he said.
Six different players — Mickelson, Horschel, Donald, Rose, Australian John Senden and Schwartzel had turns in the lead over the first nine holes.
Tiger Woods, hoping to end a five-year drought in the majors dating back to the 2008 US Open, and Rory McIlroy also moved within three shots of the pace with birdies on the first hole.
However, the high-profile duo staggered through the rest of the way. Woods shot 76 to plunge 10 shots off the pace, and McIlroy registered 75 to be nine behind Mickelson.
After the merry-go-round of leaders in the front nine, Schwartzel and Donald settled into a tie for supremacy after the turn and were joined at two-under by Mahan when he birdied the 16th.
Mahan and Schwartzel both bogeyed the last two holes to yield the top position to Donald, who was then overtaken by Mickelson.