The U.S. Open championship leaderboard is used to having Phil Mickelson near the top. But every U.S. Open championship has ended with Mickelson short of the top, in one form or another. As such, although Mickelson is the only player on the leaderboard below par after the third round on June 15, it’s hard to take a leap of faith that this is finally his time.
Mickelson has finished second five times in the Open, all between 1999 and 2009. He wasn’t supposed to get another shot in 2013, as all the attention was on Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott, among others. Yet Woods and McIlroy shot themselves out of contention on June 15, while Mickelson once again did enough to stay above the fray,
The likes of Charl Schwartzel, Steve Stricker, Luke Donald, Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan and Billy Horschel all made runs at the lead. However, it was Mickelson who took sole possession of the lead with a birdie on 17, then survived a bogey at 18 to stay -1. Schwartzel, Stricker and Mahan finished at even, while Horschel, Donald and Rose stayed within range at +1.
Yet Mickelson is the only player to do better than average at Merion through three days. But it is the fourth day that has always been tricky for him at the U.S. Open. This championship has eluded his grasp more than almost anyone, and his window seemed to be nearly shut before this weekend.
The biggest headlines Mickelson made before this championship were off the course, as he made it to the first round with 90 minutes to spare because he attended his daughter’s eighth-grade graduation first. With that setup, all the past second-place finishes and the fact that today is Fathers Day, a victory for Mickelson would be one of the Open’s great finishes. Of course, it would also make it one of his worst near-misses if he fell short again.
Although Mickelson was an underdog going in, this U.S. Open leaderboard is nothing really new so far. If he finishes second or lower by sunset, it will be nothing new in the slightest. Yet for at least the sixth time, golf fans around the world will dare to wonder if this Fathers Day at the Open will have a different ending.