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Sizing up your leaders heading into Sunday at the U.S. Open

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Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Luke Donald (top row); Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker, Charl Schwartzel (Getty Imag …

We're at the deciding day of the year's toughest major, and a handful of golfers have handled everything Merion could throw at them. Which of these gentlemen will be a major winner come Sunday evening? We size up the prime contenders right here, and we're almost certain to get a first-time U.S. Open winner:

Phil Mickelson, -1
His week: He's been strong right from the start, and he's led or co-led every night. There's a feeling of destiny about Phil this week, which is usually a bad sign.

His best finish at the U.S. Open: Second place, five agonizing times: 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009.

What a win would mean: The world. Mickelson craves the U.S. Open, and this is the one jewel his crown lacks. The guy's already a Hall of Famer, but this would be one of his most memorable wins.

His chances: Very good. Also very bad. Mickelson has the potential to win this if he can play within himself. Unfortunately, Phil also has the capability to cough this one up. It's going to be a nerve-wracking next few hours in Mickelson's mind.

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Hunter Mahan, E
His week: After a workmanlike 72 on Thursday, Mahan slipped under the radar with twin 69s on Friday and Saturday. A bogey-bogey Saturday finish wounded his scorecard.

His best finish at the U.S. Open: T6 in 2009

What a win would mean: Mahan has had a strong career; a major would make it a standout one. With near-misses in both the Ryder Cup and FedEx Cup, Mahan is one of golf's great what-if stories of the 2010s, but a victory here would cement his legacy for the near future.

His chances: You're never quite sure what Mahan you'll be getting, but if he's able to close the deal here, he'll ascend to the first tier of American golfers.

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Charl Schwartzel, E

His week: Consistent across the board, as you'd expect from someone who's at even par. But like Mahan, he closed Saturday bogey-bogey to take himself out of the lead.

His best finish at the U.S. Open: T9 in 2011

What a win would mean: The 2011 Masters champion has struggled mightily since donning the green jacket, winning only one tournament on the European Tour and one on the Asian Tour. He'd be the unlikeliest double-major winner since Angel Cabrera.

His chances: Schwartzel has the tendency to come out of nowhere, and as his Augusta performance showed — four birdies to close his Sunday round — he can drop the hammer when needed. He'll need to stay consistent for just one more day.

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Steve Stricker, E
His week: Strickeresque, which is to say pleasantly dull. He's averaged even par, but not without drama; he fought back from a double bogey on 9 on Saturday to finish out the day with a 70.

His best finish at the U.S. Open: Fifth place in 1998 and 1999

What a win would mean: A major would cap the career of one of golf's best comeback stories, several times over. Stricker is already in semiretirement; this would be a nice victory lap.

His chances: Stricker is one of the best putters on this list, but the question for Sunday is what kind of condition he'll be in once he arrives at those greens. He'll need to make up ground on some of the best players in the game, but he's got the ability to do that with the flat stick.

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Justin Rose, +1
His week: Strong to start, but like so many others, he tailed off late Saturday to finish at one over.

His best finish at the U.S. Open: T5 in 2005

What a win would mean: Rose has long lingered on the edges of golf notoriety, but he's been one of the many unable to close the deal in a major. Who knows what he'd do without that monkey on his back?

His chances: Tee to green, he's been great. If this comes down to a putting contest, however, he could be in real trouble.

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Luke Donald, +1

His week: An exceptional run all came apart in the final two holes, where he gave three strokes away and ended up +1.

His best finish at the U.S. Open: T12 in 2006

What a win would mean: Donald is one of the best golfers never to win a major. If he could take it here, he'd finally justify that No. 1 ranking he had a few months back.

His chances: Donald might just be the best putter among the leaders, and the short length of Merion plays to his strengths. But how can he handle the pressure of being in the final group on a major-championship Sunday?

Also in the mix: 54-hole co-leader Billy Horschel (+1), Jason Day (+2), Rickie Fowler (+2)

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