COMMENTARY | Judgment day has arrived at Merion. The final round of a star-studded US Open has the potential to burnish a Hall of Fame career or lift a handful of outstanding golfers into the game's elite.
Here's a rundown of the prizes to be won on what promises to be a captivating Father's Day outside Philadelphia.
Phil Mickelson: Lefty has a flair for the dramatic and I can't think of a more fitting way to end his US Open frustration than to claim the trophy at historic Merion.
Much has been written about Phil putting fatherhood ahead of golf by flying back to San Diego to attend his daughter Amanda's eighth-grade graduation. This is the same player who 14 years ago at Pinehurst insisted he would walk off the course at the 1999 US Open if wife Amy went into labor with their first child. Amanda was born the day after Mickelson lost by a stroke to Payne Stewart.
So from a personal standpoint, Lefty could capture the ultimate prize in his profession on a day that honors the ultimate labor of love in his life: being a Dad. Should be some party if Phil wins as he will be celebrating his fifth major, his 43rd birthday and Amanda's birthday - she turns 14 next week.
But Mickelson is not chasing hardware and accolades today. He loves being in the arena, in competition with the world's best and he's out there at Merion to have fun and hit great shots. "Let's go,'' he said after completing the third round with a one-stroke lead. "I can't wait to get back out playing. I feel really good ball striking, I feel good on the greens, and I think that it's going take an under par round tomorrow."
Hunter Mahan: If anyone in the final groups has a chip on his shoulder, it's Mahan. Here's a guy who was left off the 2012 Ryder Cup after winning the 2012 WGC-Accenture World Match Play over Rory McIlroy. He almost won the Match Play again this year, losing to Matt Kuchar in the final.
Mahan has the precision game for Merion - he's been among the PGA Tour's best ball strikers the last several years and leads the field at Merion in fairways hit at an impressive 85%.
A US Open win would silence the critics who have been on Mahan about his short game since his flubbed chip on the last hole in 2010 lost the Ryder Cup. And it would validate an outstanding professional career that already includes five PGA Tour wins and five national team appearances for the red, white and blue.
Luke Donald: Surprisingly, Donald is the only player in contention who has been ranked No. 1 in the world. That automatically assigns him the title of best player to have never won a major. It's a monkey Donald has been dealing with for a while and this is the logical place, the US Open, for the Englishman to get off the schneid.
It's surprising that Donald has never fared well at our national championship but a lack of power off the tee could be the reason. He said this week that the setup at Merion, which measures under 7,000 yards, fits his game nicely.
Donald is known for his short game but he'll need to step up his ball striking to seal the deal today. The 18th hole of the third round exposed the danger Donald faces when trying to force shots with his long irons. He has to play under control and give himself chances to let the putter do the work.
Steve Stricker: With 12 PGA Tour victories and a reputation as the game's best putter, Stricker also ranks high on the best never to have won a major list. Strick seems to have figured out how to deal with the pressure of a major - pretend it's just a regular tournament.
Like Mickelson, capturing the US Open on Father's Day would be a nice culmination for Stricker, who has intentionally cut back on his playing schedule this year to spend more time with his family.
Justin Rose: If there was a favorite beyond Tiger Woods heading into this week, it would be Rose. Known for his ability to find fairways and greens, Rose elevated his game to a new level with his heroics at the 2012 Ryder Cup.
The 32-year-old Rose is in the prime of his career so this won't be his last chance to contend at a US Open. But ranked No. 5 in the world and with the momentum of four PGA Tour wins in the last three years, including an AT&T National victory at nearby Aronimink, Rose may never have a better opportunity.
Mark McLaughlin has reported on the PGA Tour for the New York Post, FoxSports.com, Greensboro News & Record, and Burlington (N.C.) Times-News. He is a past member of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association. Follow him on Twitter @markmacduke.
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- Luke Donald
- PGA Tour
- Hunter Mahan