Phil Mickelson started out his third round slowly, but three birdies on the final nine holes propelled him back into the lead at the 2013 U.S. Open. Mickelson shot an even-par 70 on Saturday and sits atop the leaderboard at 1-under, good for a one-stroke lead.
As he did in the first two rounds, Mickelson played the toughest stretch of the Merion Golf Club as well as anyone. While other leaders, including Charl Schwartzel and Huter Mahan, limped into the clubhouse, Mickelson played the difficult final stretch from No. 14 to No. 18 at even. He took over sole possession of first place with a birdie at No. 17, just one of five birdies at the 17th on the day. Mickelson's lone blemish on the final stretch came at No. 18, where his par putt came up a half-rotation short.
Mickelson got off to a bit of a shaky start, with bogeys at No. 3 and No. 5, but things changed once he made the turn. Heading to the backside, Mickelson had just one birdie in his last 29 holes, but he quickly changed that with a birdie on the short Par 4 10th hole, and that proved to just be the start. He moved back to even par on the day with another birdie at No. 11, and Mickelson's round could have been even better, as he had a number of birdie putts come up just short on the final nine holes.
Although Mickelson will open the final round with the lead, he'll have a number of elite players right behind him. Of the six players within two shots of the lead, five are ranked in the top 22 in the world. Luke Donald, the No. 6 player in the world, will open the final round one-stroke behind Mickelson as he chases his first major title. Donald had a chance to join Mickelson in the red through three rounds, but double-bogeyed the 18th hole to drop to 1-over.
Hunter Mahan and Charl Schwartzel were tied for the lead at 2-under late in their rounds, but both finished bogey-bogey to drop to even par. Steve Stricker is also even-par through three rounds after carding his second-straight 70. Mahan will play with Mickelson in the final pairing on Sunday.
With approachable pin locations, Merion was supposed to be at its easiest on Saturday, but once again the course got the better of most players. The course played a bit more than four strokes over par on Saturday, slightly more difficult than it did on Thursday, but nearly a stroke easier than it did on Friday.
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were among the player struggling on Saturday, as both the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world played their way out of contention. McIlroy shot a 5-over 75 and is now nine strokes off the lead at 8-over. Woods shot a 76 in the third round and is 9-over for the tournament and well out of contention.
Here'e a look at where the field stands heading into Sunday's final round:
|10||Michael Kim (a)||4|
|T16||Bo Van Pelt||6|
|T25||Morten Orum Madsen||8|
|T31||Cheng Tsung Pan (a)||9|
|T65||Michael Weaver (a)||16|
|T65||Kevin Phelan (a)||16|