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Mickelson Still on Top after 54 Holes of U.S. Open
Though he bogeyed the final hole, Phil Mickelson managed to become the only player to emerge from the cauldron that's Merion Golf Club with under-par numbers after three rounds of the 113th U.S. Open.
The 42-year-old four-time major champion, who has finished second in the U.S. Open five times during his Hall of Fame career, carded an even-par 70 to reach 1-under 209, a shot ahead of Hunter Mahan and South Africa's Charl Schwartzel, both of whom carded 1-under 69s at Merion's difficult East Course in Ardmore, Pa.
Also at 210 is Steve Stricker, who posted a 70. If Stricker can pull off the win Sunday, it will not only be the Wisconsin native's first major title but the 46-year-old will become the oldest champion in U.S. Open history.
After going out with two bogeys to make the turn in 2-over 38, Mickelson warmed up on the back nine with three birdies, including one on the 17th that gave him the outright lead over Luke Donald, who bogeyed the par-3 hole.
Donald missed the green short-right in deep rough with his approach on the 500-yard-plus, par-4 18th, and couldn't get up and down to double-bogey the closer for a 71 and a 1-over 211 total. He shares fifth with fellow Brit Justin Rose (70) and Billy Horschel, who shot a 72. Horschel and Mickelson came into the third round tied for the lead at 1-under.
"This was a day I thought you could get to 2-under . . . I thought I played better than the store dictated," Mickelson said at greenside. "The course can bite you - it's so penalizing. I feel really good ball-striking (and) really good on the greens."
Despite the unrelenting difficulty of the golf course and a pressure-packed U.S. Open, Mickelson described his experience as "fun."
He will be paired in the final round with Mahan who, after carding a bogey and eight pars on the front nine, heated up on the back with four birdies through the first seven holes. But Mahan, a 31-year-old with five career wins, cooled off with bogeys on the last two holes.
Mahan knows Sunday will be a dogfight. "You just don't know what's going to happen," he said. "It's going to be a very, very exciting finish because I don't think any lead is safe."
On a day when the scores routinely skyrocketed well into the 70s, Jason Day carded a 2-under 68, and is in good position in solo eighth at 2-over 212 heading into Sunday to become the second straight Aussie - after Adam Scott at the Masters in April - to win a major this year.
"It would mean the world to me if I could win my first major here," Day told PGATour.com. "I've had a couple of opportunities to win before, but to actually win on I think is one of the toughest U.S. Opens that I've ever played - I only played three, but from looking at the past I think this is one of the toughest U.S. Opens I've ever seen.
"To know that my game is good enough to compete and win out here on this golf course would be great."
Rickie Fowler fired Saturday's low round, a 3-under 67 that also matched the 2013 championship's low score. The 24-year-old is within eyeshot of Mickelson at 3-over 213. "Finally just kind of pieced everything together," Fowler told PGATour.com. "I played well the first day scoring; I had a few holes get away from me. Yesterday I just had a bad stretch and today I just made a few putts to keep the round going.
"I swung it well, drove it a little better, and stayed out of the rough as much as possible," Fowler added. "So definitely feels good to be done with the round and sitting here and getting ready for tomorrow's round."
Alone in 10th at 4-over 214 is amateur Michael Kim. The Cal junior had an impressive 71 and is a stroke ahead of several Europeans - Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (72), England's Ian Poulter (73) and Sweden's Henrik Stenson (73) - and Australian John Senden (74).
Senden rose up to the top of the leaderboard early in the third round off three birdies - and a bogey - through seven holes. But the 42-year-old from Brisbane closed out his front nine with two bogeys to make the turn in even-par 36, and then tacked on two more bogeys and a double on the 16th for a 4-over 38 on the home half.
After playing three rounds together, No. 1-ranked Tiger Woods and No. 2 Rory McIlroy again spun their wheels at the tight, tough Merion. Woods shot a 6-over 76 that included a birdie on the first hole, but he had seven bogeys from there on out. Woods stands at 9-over 219, the highest 54-hole total he's ever scored at a U.S. Open.
"It certainly is frustrating," Woods said about losing a chance to win his first Grand Slam title - and the 15th of his illustrious career - since the U.S. Open in 2008.
Among those tied with Woods for 31st is amateur Cheng Tsung Pan. The Taiwan native and junior-to-be on the University of Washington golf team posted a 75.
McIlroy was one stroke better than Woods. The 2011 U.S. Open champion is at 8-under 218 and tied for 25th entering Sunday.
The 24-year-old Northern Irishman said later that he's just hoping to leave the Philadelphia area with some good memories. "I'm 8-over par for the tournament," he told reporters. "I reckon I could get back to 3- or 4-over par and finish the U.S. Open on a positive note and get something out of it at least."
Defending champion Webb Simpson made the 36-hole cut by two strokes, but carded his second straight 5-over 75. The North Carolinian is now tied for 44th at 11-over 221.
Sergio Garcia was having a decent day, at least until he came to the par-4 15th. Like he did in the first round on the hole, the 33-year-old Spaniard hit his tee shot out-of-bounds. On Thursday, that led to a quadruple-bogey eight.
Gracia's travails Saturday were worse. He hit three shots OB for a 6-over-par 10. For the day, Garcia, after opening with three birdies to make the turn in 3-under 33, added two bogeys on the back - along with the 10 - for an 8-over 42 and a 75.
In three rounds, Garcia has been 10-over on the 15th hole alone. Through 54 holes he's totaled 11-over 221. If Garcia could have parred the 15th for three rounds, he'd be only two strokes out of the lead entering Sunday.
Saturday's high round was a 16-over 86 by Robert Karlsson. After opening with a 74 and 72, the 43-year-old Swede - an 11-time winner on the European Tour - had only one birdie, far from enough to offset eight bogeys, three doubles and a triple on the diabolical 18th for a 22-over 232 over three rounds.
For all the scores, visit http://www.majorschampionships.com/us-open/leaderboard.html.