Luke Donald and Justin Rose Challenge Phil Mickelson For US Open

Phil Mickelson - US Open 2008

While Tiger Woods crashes hard in yet another major, Phil Mickelson takes aim at his first US Open. But don’t count out Luke Donald and Justin Rose.

By Espen Uldal

Maybe it was a symbolic act when Phil Mickelson left Merion and returned to the San Diego area to attend the eighth-grade graduation of his daughter, and then returned to Merion on the red eye just in time for his first round tee off time in the US Open on Thursday.

Maybe. Just maybe.

Sunday is Father’s Day and Mickelson, the father of three girls, is taking a one shot lead into the final round of this year’s second major. No matter what happens this Sunday the left hander is a caring father, but if he takes the title too ? Oh, what a story.

First, the big story was, that Lefty had left Merion just before nothing less than a major, to attend to family business … Out of town. If anybody thought that was nuts, that tune changed right after Mickelson signed a first round scorecard that boasted a 67 and gave him the lead on 3-under-par.

Since then, Mickelson has been running things at the old club in Philadelphia, and once again the golf world can smile at what this guy does and ask: “What will Phil do next ?” If he takes the trophy, this one will be tough to top, even for Philly Mick himself.

The lefthander at 1-under-par takes a one shot lead to the final round ahead of Hunter Mahan (his playing partner on Sunday), Steve Stricker and South African Charl Schwartzel.

Luke Donald, Justin Rose and American Billy Horschel enter the final round trailing Phil Mickelson by two strokes at 1-over-par.

Donald bogeyed his final two holes en route to a 71. His previous-best 54-hole position at the U.S. Open was 11th in 2006 (finished T12). Donald is making his 10th U.S. Open appearance. His best finish in nine previous U.S. Open starts is T12 (2006).The U.S. Open is the only major that Donald does not have a top 10. He has three top 10s at the Masters and two each at the PGA Championship and British Open. His best finish in 39 previous major starts is T3 at the 2005 Masters and 2006 PGA Championship.

Rose is making his eighth U.S. Open start, with T5 in his inaugural appearance in 2003 his best finish. Rose’s best position at the U.S. Open through three rounds was third in 2007, before carding a final-round 76 to T10. His only other made cut was in 2012 (T21). Rose’s best finish in eight previous PGA Tour starts this season was a runner-up at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Tiger Woods will probably sign himself into the history books this Sunday, when he fails to win in his 20th major in a row this week. His last major triumph was in the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines. Since then he has not been close to touching a major, even though he has posted eight top ten’s.

Woods is ten shots behind Mickelson, and even though he has won four times this year since January, he has been out of sync in majors for quite some time now. In spite of this he is still considered the player to beat in every major he attends.

At Muirfield Village a few weeks back Tiger shot 79, including a back-9 in 44 shots (he’s worst nine hole score ever), and this Saturday at the short but tricky Merion he blew out of contention with a 76 to start the last round at 9-over-par.

Woods’ 76 is his highest score at the U.S. Open since opening with 76-76 to miss the cut in 2006. It equals his highest score at the event as a professional, with his worst score coming as an amateur in 1996 with a third-round 77.

But this Sunday will be about Mickelson. Sunday will be Mickelson’s 43rd birthday. It will be his 478th start on the PGA Tour and his 460th as a professional. And it will be father’s day. He has already behaved like a father this week, so he will take the first price on that one already.

Can he take his first ever US Open title as well ?

Maybe. Just maybe.

image: © Jim Epler