MAMARONECK, N.Y. – The yardage book Phil Mickelson keeps in his pocket is filled with copious notes from nearly a dozen practice rounds at Winged Foot that have prepared him for this U.S. Open.
The way he surged into a share of the lead Saturday, it looked like he borrowed a page from Tiger Woods, the man he’s trying to catch in the record book.
One by one, the leaders collapsed in a series of miscues that sent them tumbling down the leaderboard. Mickelson marched along with his best golf of the tournament, hitting the last five fairways and giving himself a birdie putt on the last eight holes.
And when a torturous day at Winged Foot was in the books, Mickelson shot a 1-under 69 and was on the verge of joining Woods in a small chapter of golf history as the only players to win three straight majors on the schedule.
All that stands in the way is 18 holes and an unheralded Englishman, Kenneth Ferrie, whose three-putt bogey from the fringe on the 18th hole gave him a 71 and dropped him into a tie with Mickelson at 2-over 212, the seventh time in the last 11 rounds at a major that Lefty was atop the leaderboard.
Mickelson sat next to the U.S. Open trophy in a television interview. It was close enough to touch, but he kept his hands to himself.
“I’ve got one round to go, 18 holes, and there’s a lot of guys right there, a lot of good players that are making pars and fighting, just like I’m trying to do,” Mickelson said. “I’m not thinking about those past tournaments. I’m trying to just play one more good round.”
It was the first time the 54-hole lead was over par at the U.S. Open since 1974, known as the “Massacre of Winged Foot,” when Tom Watson led at 3-over 213 and Hale Irwin wound up winning at 7-over 287. That was the year Winged Foot got its reputation as one wicked test of golf, and it sure lived up its reputation on this steamy Saturday.
As for the challengers on the course?
Ferrie is a 37-year-old playing only his fourth major, and his first U.S. Open. He was surprisingly steady except for a flew blips on the back nine, when he took bogey from the bunker on the par-3 13th and ran his birdie putt from the fringe on the 18th some 6 feet past the hole, missing the par attempt badly.
Geoff Ogilvy of Australia, who won the Accenture Match Play Championship in February, made two straight bogeys on the back to wreck an otherwise solid round, finishing with a 2-over 72 that left him one shot out of the lead.
The group at 5-over 215 all had their moments, good and bad.
â€¢ Three-time major winner Vijay Singh had to scramble for bogey on the 13th and holed a 30-foot par putt late to secure a 70.
â€¢ Ian Poulter of England had a chip roll back to his feet from short of the 18th, making bogey to spoil his round of 70. He only has three shots to make up, far less daunting than last year’s British Open, when he started the last round nine shots behind Woods and made up only one.
â€¢ Steve Stricker held on to his tenuous lead for eight holes until he started missing fairways and limped home to a 76.
â€¢ Colin Montgomerie dropped five shots on his first four holes, then steadied himself for a 75 that kept alive faint hopes of a first major championship.
“That was a disaster,” Monty said of his start. “Five over to finish was a hell of an effort. I pat myself on the back tonight. The last 14 holes were good.”
The last hole was awful for Padraig Harrington.
The Irishman needed a birdie to catch Mickelson, but made a mess of it. He barely made contact out of the deep rough, moving the ball only about 15 yards into the fairway. Once he got out of a greenside bunker, he three-putted for a triple bogey that sent him spiraling down the leaderboard with a 74, in the group at 6-over 216 with Mike Weir (71) and Jim Furyk (74).
Weir hit what he thought was his best shot on the 18th, only to see it roll off the green and into a bunker. From there, he blasted over the green and couldn’t get up and down, ending with a double bogey
1- Mickelson is the person to beat. He’ll have to drive better than he did yesterday though.
If Mickelson wins he will have won the last 3 major championships and would go to the British Open with a chance to become the champion of all four professional majors at once. Something only Tiger Woods has done when Tiger won the 2001 Masters.
Warning- Mickelson’s record at the British Open is poor. He has never been a serious factor in that tournament.
2- I don’t think we’ll see as bas as scoring at Winged Foot as seen in the 1974 Open. Still I think 284 will be the winning score and 283 the lowest we could see.
3- Geoff Ogilvy and Ian Poulter I think are the people most likely to challenge Mickelson today. If you want my honest prediction, I think Ogilvy will be the winner.
4- Vijay Singh, Colin Montgomerie, Steve Stricker and Padrig Harrington could still contend.
5- Does the USGA ever learn or are they staffed by sadists? The 18th hole yesterday was ridiculous in how the pin was set up. US Opens in 2004, 2002 and 1998 have seen similar debacles. They should think when setting up the course for what happened to Harrington and others on 18 weren’t the breaks of golf but the breaks of the USGA.
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