When everyone else wilted, Phil Mickelson hung on.
Coming down Merion Golf Club’s devious home stretch, Mickelson played a nervy game and, despite a finishing bogey, grabbed a one-stroke lead at the U.S. Open heading into Sunday.
The fact that Mickelson was the only player under par after three rounds served as testament to the difficulty of a course whose final five holes squeezed bogey after bogey out of the golfers atop the leaderboard.
“I had to be really patient not to force the issue and fight for par out there,” Mickelson said. “This is a really fun challenge. It is a hard challenge but it is really fun.”
Among the other top golfers on Saturday, Charl Schwartzel and Hunter Mahan bogeyed Nos. 17 and 18, falling into a tie for second at even par. Luke Donald gave away three strokes in those two holes to finish at one over.
“It’s all about patience, isn’t it?” Mahan said. “You’ve just got to hang in there. You’ve got to fight.”
Headed the opposite direction, Steve Stricker recorded a 32 on the back nine -- tied for best of the week -- to join Schwartzel and Mahan in second place. Donald, Justin Rose and Bill Horschel, who started the third round tied for the lead, stood tied for fifth, only two strokes back of Mickelson.
Fans cheered the Mickelson when he birdied No. 17, only the fifth player to do so all day. They cheered again as he walked up the 18th fairway, where his solid-looking second shot had the bad luck to dribble into a difficult lie just off the green.
The golfer known as “Lefty,” who just missed a par putt on the 18th, has a history of losing tournaments at the very end, so there is still a chance for him to stumble. But on Saturday, no one in the U.S. Open field looked steadier.
“A lot of fun,” Mickelson said, looking forward to the final round. “I can’t wait to get back out there playing.”
The final five holes take toll on leaders | 4:55 p.m.
Merion giveth. And Merion taketh away.
The much-scrutinized site of this year’s U.S. Open has -- as expected -- offered players a chance to improve their scores on a string of favorable holes around the turn. But it also serves up an unforgiving final stretch.
As Saturday afternoon turned to evening, one round after another turned chilly in the last five holes, player after player either losing their leads or falling away from the pack.
“There's some tricky pin placements out there every day and that's part of the reason why the scores are where they're at,” he said. “You can hit it on the green and there's some tough two putts out there."
How tough are the final five holes at Merion Golf Club?
As the last parings headed home, those holes were playing a combined 2.76 strokes over par. That ranks them as the toughest in the history of the U.S. Open.
Amateur Michael Kim, who went on a tear through the afternoon hours, dropped four strokes at the end to finish the third round at four over.
“I kept looking at the leaderboard,” he said. “It was so cool to see my name next to those names.”
Woods missed too many putts, bogeying Nos. 3, 5, 6, 10, 12, 16 and 18 on his way to a forgettable round, finishing miles off the pace at nine over. McIlroy matched him error for error with a score only slightly better at eight over.
It was Woods’ highest total after 54 holes at a U.S. Open.
While the world’s two highest-ranked players faded away, there were plenty of marquee golfers ready to fill the void at the top of the leaderboard.
Mickelson threatened to move into a tie for first on the uphill No. 14 hole, hitting a classic Lefty wedge directly on line.
At any other course, the ball might have hit the flagstick and dropped in. But Merion has steel pins -- needed to hold up those funny wicker baskets on top iinstead of a flag -- so the shot clanged away, leaving a short par putt.
Luke Donald, Charl Schwartzel share lead | 3:23 p.m.
A fist pump. A big smile and a tip of the cap.
His mini-charge began at the start of the back nine, considered the easiest stretch at Merion Golf Club, “easiest” being a relative term at this year’s grueling test of golf's best players.
At No. 10, he hit an uncharacteristically conservative tee shot, a smart play that left him in position to score. Then came another makeable birdie putt on No. 11.
Hunter Mahan enjoyed similar success after the turn with three birdies in a four-hole stretch that left him standing alongside Mickelson at one under. Eight more golfers followed within three strokes of the lead, a tightly packed bunch that included Justin Rose, Ian Poulter and an unexpected name.
Even with a bogey at No. 16, 19-year-old Michael Kim remained stubbornly in contention at one over.
The amateur started Saturday’s third round with a bogey on the third hole at Merion, but bounced back with a string of four birdies in five holes on the back nine. Not bad for a young man who finished the second round with modest goals.
“Trying not to think about it too much,” he said. “Low expectations and whatever happens.”
A native of South Korea, Kim played golf at Torrey Pines High and is now a junior on the California team. Just past 6 p.m. EDT, he was tied for fourth place.
Saturday afternoon saw several players making charges on the back nine. In addition to Kim, Jason Day moved to two over with birdies on Nos. 10 and 13.
Charl Schwartzel claims the lead at one under | 2:22 p.m.
There are two ways to miss a breaking putt.
That would be the high side of the hole or the low side, otherwise known as the “pro” side and the “amateur” side because professionals usually have the confidence to stroke the ball more firmly.
So why are players at this U.S. Open missing on the low side so often? Blame a tough course, tilted greens and the ever-changing weather over the last five days.
“When the greens are very fast like this and you have soft greens that get indentations and spikes and so forth, it’s very hard to make putts,” Phil Mickelson explained after the second round. “You can’t hit them firm enough to hold the line.”
On Saturday afternoon at Merion, Mickelson missed low on a putt to save par and Tiger Woods made the same mistake to settle for par on No. 8. Steve Stricker’s low-side miss denied him a share of first place on the same hole.
Yo, Adrian: The day before the U.S. Open began, Rory McIlroy took a break from preparations to drive into nearby downtown Philadelphia. The reason for his visit? The golfer from Northern Ireland wanted to run up the 72 stone steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
That’s where Rocky trained before his big bout with Apollo Creed.
“Can’t come to Philadelphia and not see the 'Rocky' steps!!” McIlroy tweeted.
With a Phillies cap turned around backward on his head, he paused at the top to strike Sylvester Stallone’s iconic pose, arms thrust upward. But at six strokes off the lead on Saturday afternoon, he might need the golf equivalent of a 15th-round knockout to get back into contention.
Luke Donald, John Senden take the lead | 1:25 p.m.
We’re halfway through moving day at the U.S. Open, but there hasn’t been a whole lot of movement at the treacherous Merion Golf Club.
The U.S. Open tradition of par golf -- or worse -- continued to keep the field in check, with second-round leaders Phil Mickelson and Billy Horschel shifting into reverse, dropping a stroke to stand at even.
Coming into the third round, Mickelson looked at the pin placements and wondered if the course was set up for a few rounds in the mid-60s. Senden certainly started out that way, playing at two under through four holes. And Edward Loar clawed his way back into contention at one over with an eagle and birdie on the front nine.
But most of the field hovered around par as alternating scenes of frustration and small triumph played out across Merion’s devilish 111 acres.
Justin Rose briefly moved into a tie for first with a tricky 14-foot putt on No. 4 just as Tiger Woods watched his delicate chip on No. 6 check up short and roll back, setting up a bogey that left him at five over, a backslide of two strokes from his starting point on the day.
Rory McIlroy was faring even worse, standing at six over, and leaving the chances increasingly slim that either of the world’s two best players would be a factor in this year’s U.S. Open.
As for the rest of the field, they could take solace in the fact that no one had played well enough to pull away. If the whole point of moving day is to put yourself in position for a Sunday afternoon challenge, there were still a dozen players within four strokes of the leaders late Saturday afternoon.
Phil Mickelson, Billy Horschel begin third round | 12:40 p.m.
Phil Mickelson is on the course at Merion Golf Club and settled at the first hole for what should be the most comforting three words he'll hear all day: "Tap-in par."
Yes, Mickelson just missed his birdie chance at the par-four No. 1 but he'll keep his stress level low if he can keep making easy pars on a course that is spitting out a lot of bogeys during the 113th U.S. Open.
Co-leader Billy Horschel also made par at the first.
Mickelson hit his drive on the par-five second into thick rough, forcing a layup ... into the rough. He chopped his third shot to the green but missed another makeable birdie putt.
It was another solid par but Mickelson knows he could be winning this thing in a runaway if only he had made a few more mid-range putts.
On a course as tough as Merion, though, he's got to keep telling himself that par is OK and wait for the occassional gift.
Mickelson went all day without a birdie in the second round before rolling in a 21-footer at the 18th.
Meanwhile, Horschel hit a perfect drive on No. 2 but shank-hooked his second shot to the left and then chunked his third into the bunker. He made a beautiful up-and-down from there to save par and keep a share of the lead.
Look out for: John Senden. The Australian birdied his first two holes to join the leaders at one under. Senden is a solid ball striker who has been plagued by his putting. So far, so steady. Senden's only win on the PGA Tour was at the John Deere Classic in 2006. He's a four-time winner in international events.
Not so fast on that Tiger Woods-Rory McIlroy charge. Both got tripped up at the sensationally long, 256-yard par-three third hole. Both superstars came up short and missed par putts. McIlroy followed his opening birdie with two bogeys.
Woods was still three over par through four holes, same as he started the day. McIlroy has given back a shot and is four over.
Take your shoes off, but don't relax: Charley Hoffman removed his shoes and rolled up his pants to hit his third shot on the par-five fourth hole. Hoffman then chipped in for a birdie. A birdie at four is some achievement as the 600-plus-yard par-five hole is playing to an average of 5.3 shots this week.
Tiger Woods opens third round with a birdie | 11:45 a.m.
Woods and McIlroy, the top two ranked players in the world, started the day four shots back of co-leaders Phil Mickelson and Billy Horschel, who completed 36 holes at one-under-par 139.
Woods and McIlroy both made long putts on the first green, Woods holing a tricky, left-to-right, banana-shaped slider.
The second hole, a par five, didn't go so well for McIlroy, who knocked his drive out of bounds and gave a shot back with a bogey six. Woods hit his drive into the rough but ended up saving par.
The guy playing with Tiger and Rory?
His name is so long it has to be hyphenated on the leade board, but family and friends call him Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, a fine player from Spain with six career wins on the European Tour. He qualified for the U.S. Open by being ranked in the top 60 (he's No. 41) of the Official World Golf Rankings.
Mickelson and Horschel tee off at 2:46 EDT.
Ouch: Sergio Garcia took a six-over 10 on the par-four 15th hole on the heels of two earlier bogeys. Garcia is already eight over for the day, 14 over for the tournament.
Garcia has really had to gut it out this week. There appeared no chance he would make the cut after going double bogey-quadruple bogey on consecutive holes on the front nine during his first round. Garcia, though, used an eagle three on his back nine to rally for an opening-round 73. He matched that with a second-round 73 to make the cut by two shots.
He has heard a few "fried chicken" taunts from the gallery in reference to his recent insensitive comments directed at Woods.
Save to say Garcia can't wait for this weekend to end.
Too bad: For the first time since 1997, none of the 20 players who competed in both local and sectional qualifying made the cut. Blame it on Merion, which played almost a full stroke harder in the secod round (75.1) than it did in the first round (74.3).
Amateur and pros alike feel full force of Merion Golf Club | 10:35 a.m.
Merion Golf Club has not discriminated. It has been an equal-opportunity destroyer. It has taken out young and old, weak and strong, the rich and the poor.
Grayson Murray, 19, shot the worst 36-hole score with rounds of 83-81. He left the course at 24 over par. But he wasn't even the youngest player to miss the cut. That was 18-year-old Gavin Hill, who went out at 11 over.
Don't sweat it guys, because Merion has made the pros look like amateurs.
Jay Don Blake, the oldest player in the field at 54, is also going home after rounds of 74-80. Being elder statesman and shooting 14 over is a lonely feeling.
"I don't know any of the guys walking in and out of the locker room," he said.
The old man didn't need to hang his head, and neither did the kids.
Merion beat the life out of 13 former major champions. You read that right: THIRTEEN.
"It's that hard, it's that difficult, it's that long," McDowell said on his way out the door.
McDowell said the key is not letting one bad weekend wreck your whole summer.
"I'm temporarily dejected," he said.
Another surprise early check out was Jim Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open winner at Olympia Fields. The course at Merion, less than 7,000 yards, seemed a good fit for the short-hitting Furyk, yet he shot rounds of 77-79.
"I don't think I've played worse for 36 holes," Furyk said.
Those 12 players shot a collective 162 over par.
Third round is underway with 73 golfers | 9:40 a.m.
Clear the third-round way ... finally!
After two major weather delays on Thursday, the 113th U.S. Open is finally back on track.
Sixty-eight players completed second-round play Saturday morning and 73 players ended up making the cut at eight over par or better.
The second round is official with Billy Horschel and Phil Mickelson sharing the 36-hole lead at one-under-par 139.
Players again will tee off at holes Nos. 1 and 11. Woods and McIlroy, the top two players in the world, are paired again and will tee off 1:56 p.m. EDT on the first hole. The third golfer in their group is Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.
Mickelson and Horschel are joined by Donald in the final grouping off the first tee at 2:40 local time. The second-to-last group out will be Stricker, Senden and Rose.
--Four amateurs made the cut, the most since 2004. They are Michael Kim (three over), Cheng-Tsung Pan (four over), Kevin Phelan and Micheal Weaver (both at eight over).
Phil Mickelson, Billy Horschel in lead as second-round play resumes | 6 a.m.
As you read this early Saturday morning players are finishing up their second rounds at Merion Golf Cub. Sixty-eight golfers had Friday leftover holes to play before the cut could be made atthe top 60 plus ties.
Only then can we move on to moving day at the 113th U.S. Open.
Billy Horschel and Phil Mickelson have completed two rounds and left the course Friday tied for the lead at one-under-par 139. Five other players are one shot back at even par.
Little things like this can have an impact on the eventual winner.
In a week where the USGA is promoting fast play, well, you've never seen some players move so fast. Had the Mickelson group not teed off on 18 before the horn, it would have had to return early Saturday morning to complete the hole.
Rules state, though, that you can complete a hole if one player in the group hits a tee shot.
The Mickelson group was playing behind Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and Nicolas Colsaerts, which had been put on the clock for slow play earlier in the round.
Mickelson told Dustin Johnson and his caddie they might need to tee off while Johnson's group was still in the 18th fairway. Bradley was rushed up ahead to do the honors.
"So they moved to one side," Mickelson said of Johnson, Watson and Colsaerts. "Keegan hit, and that means the rest of the group can finish. It worked out we were fine time-wise, but it's nice when guys like that help you out."
Mickelson made his only birdie of the day at the 18th, rolling in a 21-foot putt to seize a share of the lead.
Stricker scratched out a par on No. 18 to stay at even for the tournament. Bradley is 12 over and will miss the cut, but he did his part.
Mickelson and Stricker got to sleep in Saturday and will be well rested when they tee off for this afternoon's third round.
"It's a big break for us to finish and get that extra rest," Stricker said, "because it's two long days and you need all the rest you can get."