U.S. Open leader Phil Mickelson can't wait for Sunday

Phil Mickelson reacts after his birdie at the 17th hole during the U.S. Open at the Merion Golf...

Phil Mickelson reacts after his birdie at the 17th hole during the U.S. Open at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., June 15, 2013. (ADAM HUNGER/Reuters)

JON McCARTHY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:48 PM ET

ARDMORE, PA. - Will this time be different?

Phil Mickelson has a chance to put his painful U.S. Open past behind him Sunday at Merion Golf Club. The five-time bridesmaid at this tournament is the only man under par and takes a one-stroke lead into the final round.

And he’s pumped.

“Let’s go,” he said after his round. “I can’t wait to get back out.”

Mickelson shot an even-par 70 Saturday and sits one-under for the tournament. Sunday is his birthday and this man is ready for a party.

“I feel really good ball-striking, I feel good on the greens and I think it's going to take an under-par round tomorrow,” he said.

Mickelson had trouble keeping his tee shots in the fairway Saturday but made several par-saving putts to keep his round going, including one at the tough sixth hole. He had a near chip-in at the 14th that careened off the stick but after his round he was talking about the 4-iron he hit to the 254-yard, par-3 17th.

“It was one of the best shots I've ever hit,” he said. “I mean it just was right down the center of the green and I was hoping it would kind of get the right bounces and so forth and it did.”

Mickelson birdied that hole before stumbling at the last and making bogey.

He will be paired tomorrow with Hunter Mahan, who was one of just six players under par in the third round. His one-under 69 put him at even-par for the tournament.

Merion’s closing stretch is perhaps the toughest players have ever faced at a U.S. Open and the winner will certainly need to handle it well Sunday with so many players in contention.

“It’s the teeth of the course,” Mahan said about the closing holes after his round Saturday. “I don’t think any lead is safe.” –a

Charl Schwartzel and Steve Stricker are tied with Mahan at even-par.

Stricker is playing a limited schedule this season and enjoying spending more time with his family and being semi-retired. But that doesn't mean he isn’t determined to add that elusive major to his resume.

“It would be unbelievable,” he said. “But I’m not trying to think about that yet. I’m just trying to execute one shot at a time.”

Stricker’s strategy worked Saturday as he shot even-par. Stricker was one of the only leaders to par both the 17th and 18th holes.

The next group of contenders are Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Billy Horschel, they sit at one-over par, two shots behind Mickelson.

Donald shared the lead for much of the day Saturday before dropping three shots on the final two holes. His ability to hit fairways and take advantage of Merion’s tight, shorter holes could set him apart, but the he’ll have to manage the long closing holes if he is to win on Sunday.

“The course is only going to get tougher,” he said.

Rose was a popular pre-tournament pick and he could prove the experts right.

Canadians Mike Weir and David Hearn both made the cut after finishing their second rounds early Saturday morning, but neither made a move in the third round.

Weir enters Sunday at 13-over and Hearn is 10-over.

Mickelson and Schwartzel are the only players in the top 15 that have won a major.

TIGER FALLS FAR BEHIND

Tiger Woods moved the wrong way on moving day and any hope he had of breaking his major championship drought is over.

Woods was asked where all the birdies were for him on Saturday at the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.

“They were at the first hole,” he said. “That was it.”

After making birdie at the opening hole, Woods bogeyed seven of the next 17 to shoot a six-over 76 and enter Sunday at nine-over, the highest score of his career at a U.S. Open.

“I didn't make anything today,” he said. “I just couldn't get a feel for them, some putts were slow, some were fast and I had a tough time getting my speed right.”

Woods was asked how disappointed he was with his week after coming to Merion as the favourite to win.

“It certainly is frustrating,” he said.

At the difficult fifth hole Saturday, Woods hit his approach shot short of the green. During the second round he found himself in a similar situation and after much deliberation he played a low-skipping chip. The only players in the field that were getting the ball close to the hole on No. 5 from short of the green were flying the ball all the way to the pin. His chip came up well short but he made a putt to save par. On Saturday from a similar spot short of the green Woods tried putting the ball and again came up woefully short. This time he missed the par-saving putt.

Missed putts were the story of the day for Woods, but the story of the tournament was how Merion seemed to confuse the world No. 1. Woods was clearly befuddled by the green complexes all week and didn’t handle it well Saturday when the greens dried out and sped up.

The 14-time major champion hasn’t won a major since the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines five years ago. It’s the longest drought of his career and has many beginning to doubt whether he will break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major wins.

Woods got off to the fastest start of his career this season, winning his fourth tournament of the year at the Players Championship in early May.


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