ARDMORE, Pa. — Phil Mickelson is writing this story for us. Not literally, of course, as the man is probably too tired to come down to the media center at the 2013 U.S. Open to write a few hundred columns after shooting an even-par 70 in the third round to take a one-stroke lead into the final round on Sunday.
Actually, get your rest, Phil. We don't even need you to write this story for us. The story writes itself.
Mickelson is leading the U.S. Open after 54 holes with a chance to finally win the major championship he's always wanted to win but never could.
Mickelson will tee off in the final round of the U.S. Open on Father's Day after spending the early part of the week jet-setting back and forth to California to attend his daughter Amanda's eighth grade graduation.
Yes, she's the same daughter Mickelson was expecting during the 1999 U.S. Open when he famously wore a pager—remember pagers?—so he wouldn't miss her birth. Yes, he's the best father on the planet. (I say that as a dad who is spending Father's Day with Phil Mickelson instead of his kids.)
"She told me that it's fine," Mickelson told us earlier in the week. "'Stay, it's the U.S. Open, I know how much you care about it.' And I told her that I want to be there. I don't want to miss that. I don't want to miss her speech. I don't want to miss her graduation. She spent nine years at that school. And she's worked very hard, and I'm very proud of her."
Phil Mickelson has a chance to win the U.S. Open on Father's Day, the week he put his daughter ahead of his craft? This story cannot get any better.
Until it does. It's Mickelson's birthday.
Lefty turns 43 years old on Sunday, and by the looks of his game this week, he is playing some of the best golf of his career.
"At 43, I feel as good as I've ever felt. I feel like I'm in better shape than I've been in years. I feel stronger than I've been, more flexible. And I've had no injuries or aches or pains. My body feels great."
This week for Mickelson is like one of those horrible movie scripts that is so sappy and dramatic and implausible that nobody will green-light it. Only, it's happening on Sunday and, win or lose, the ending is going to be something people will remember forever.
The only thing this story is missing is his family coming out to surprise him on the 18th green. And maybe a puppy with an injured paw Phil can mend on the 18th fairway. Yeah, we should figure out a way to include a puppy. Maybe Bones can stuff one in the bag just in case.
If Mickelson wins, it will be the biggest victory of his career since his first Masters, finally exorcising the U.S. Open demons after five second-place finishes.
If he loses, especially if something happens on the marvelously difficult 17th or 18th holes at Merion, this becomes his latest Winged Foot, and the story of Mickelson's dance with the U.S. Open has another disappointing chapter.
Whether it ends with triumph or tragedy, it's a story really only Mickelson could give us.
"I don't think I feel any more pressure than anybody else who wants to win the tournament, a major championship, the U.S. Open," Mickelson told reporters after his third round. "But it would certainly mean a lot to me that this is a tournament for years I've had opportunities, I've come close to, and it would mean a lot tomorrow if I could play some of my best golf. Certainly if I can play the way I have been."
He has been playing great. This course has been bringing the field to its collective knees, and through three rounds, Mickelson is the only player under par. He has been remarkably consistent from tee to green, and when he has gotten in trouble in the thick Merion rough, he has adeptly handled the adversity, putting himself in a position to save par.
Mickelson has just seven bogeys through 54 holes on a course that has forced 1,762 across the entire field. That's just bogeys, by the way. When you factor in doubles or worse, the average per player is just under six holes of bogey-or-worse golf per round.
Through those three rounds, Mickelson has 79 putts, just below the field average, but many of his misses were for birdie, not par. When he did miss, Phil was able to keep the ball close enough to the hole to have relatively easy tap-ins, lessening the pressure on the greens to grind out par- or bogey-saving putts hole after hole like many of the other players have had to do.
It's far less of a grind when you're missing birdie putts, not par putts. Had Mickelson dropped even half the putts on which he burned the edge or lipped out, he would be winning the tournament by four or five strokes.
"Today I hit a number of good putts that didn't quite go in. I had opportunities…and those opportunities will hopefully fall in tomorrow, because I'm getting the ball started on my line with the right pace, and I can't worry about what could be. I've got to go out tomorrow and play a good round."
Mickelson has been so remarkably solid at one of the most difficult courses in U.S. Open history that he is convinced he still has a low round in him. It would be crazy not to believe him. When asked what it would take to win his first U.S. Open, Mickelson was rather matter-of-fact.
"A good score tomorrow. I don't know what number that is, but I do believe I've got an under-par round in me tomorrow even with the difficult pins and the possibly firmer conditions."
Phil Mickelson. The U.S. Open. Father's Day. His birthday. Someone find a wounded puppy now. I have a feeling we may need it Sunday evening.
All quotes were obtained firsthand.
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