ARDMORE, Pa. – There are a dozen terrific stories that Merion Golf Club could reveal today.
But there’s only one great one.
Only one story that truly belongs in the Merion history books with the likes of Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones and Lee Trevino.
If there is any justice in golf, Phil Mickelson needs to win his U.S. Open today – on his 43rd birthday – in Phil-adelphia.
Mickelson – who 14 years ago at Pinehurst had Payne Stewart hold his face in his hands and tell him “Go home and be a father” – needs to close this chapter on the Father’s Day after he flew cross-country to see his oldest daughter deliver her middle school graduation address on the eve of the championship.
Mickelson – who nine years ago at Shinnecock watched Retief Goosen make one ridiculous par putt after another on dead greens – needs to have the Sunday putts fall his way.
Mickelson – who seven years ago at Winged Foot melted down with a one-shot lead on the 72nd hole and left muttering “stupid” to himself – needs to make all the right decisions.
Mickelson – who twice at Bethpage earned silver runner-up medallions, in 2009 telling officials who were one medal short to give it to his co-bridesmaids because “I have enough” – needs to finally get his hands and name on the big silver trophy he most covets.
It has to happen, right?
“It’s got the makings to be something special, but I still have to go out and perform and play some of my best golf,” said Mickelson, who carries a one-shot lead over Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker and Charl Schwartzel into the final round at Merion.
It certainly has all the makings to be one of the special stories in golf. He’ll wake up this morning and be 43 years old, with arthritis and a wife surviving breast cancer, and try to fulfill a lifelong dream of being his national open champion. Despite not playing a single practice round at Merion this week because of weather and family priorities, Mickelson takes this career quest very seriously.
“If I never get that win,” he said after his remarkable first-round 67, “then it would be a bit heartbreaking.”
That is something the left-hander knows better than any golfer living or dead. His five runner-ups in the U.S. Open are a record. It’s not something he wants to extend any further.
“I’ve had opportunities in years past, and it has been so fun even though it’s been heartbreaking to come so close a number of times and let it slide,” he said. “But I feel better equipped than I have ever felt heading into the final round of a U.S. Open. 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.”
For much of Saturday’s third round, it looked like Mickelson lacked the magic necessary to make it happen – that he’d finally run out of gas after an exhausting week that started with his 11th-hour cross-country commute. He was 2-over for the day after five holes.
Then he made birdies on 10 and 11 to right the ship.
“I got off to a poor start yesterday, and today I got off to a poor start,” he said. “I was a couple over yesterday, a couple over today, and fortunately I was able to be patient and not force the issue, wait for some birdie holes and continue making pars until I got to them and make up some ground.”
Another rare birdie on the brutal par-3 17th put him back in the lead. Even a closing bogey left him as the only player in the field under par.
“The 4 iron I hit (on 17), I just stood there and admired it,” he said. “It was one of the best shots I’ve ever hit.”
Now he needs to play one of the best rounds of his life to punctuate a story that has always seemed to be his destiny. Mickelson has lost more majors than most golfers have ever had the chance to win. But he has four major titles to his credit and of the 14 guys immediately trailing him within six shots, only Schwartzel has one lone major victory on his resume.
One more good round might be enough to erase all those heartaches.
“I don’t know what number that is, but I do believe I’ve got an under par round in me (Sunday) even with the difficult pins and the possibly firmer conditions,” he said.
With Father’s Day, his birthday and the U.S. Open final round at Merion on deck, what is Mickelson expecting?
“A lot of fun,” he said, using a word few others might utter at any U.S. Open. “Let’s go. I can’t wait to get back out playing.”
The golf world can’t wait for the one great story worthy of Merion.