Punch Shot: Who will win the 113th U.S. Open?


ARDMORE, Pa. – Phil Mickelson is searching for his first U.S. Open victory and leads by a shot over Hunter Mahan, Charl Schwartzel and Steve Stricker entering the final round at Merion. Will Mickelson finally win? If not him then who? The GolfChannel.com weighs in.


At the risk of souring your morning Froot Loops, Phil Mickelson will not win the U.S. Open. Until he actually wins an Open, I’m going to believe he won’t. So I’ll go with Charl Schwartzel, who is a shot behind Mickelson and the only other man in the top 15 (besides Phil) who has won a major championship.

Schwartzel, you may recall, birdied the last four holes of the 2011 Masters to win the green jacket. Stud players like Adam Scott, Jason Day, Tiger Woods and Luke Donald came from everywhere attempting to win that tournament but it was a calm, cool and collected Schwartzel who threw the biggest haymaker of them all down the stretch to slam the door shut.

I'll admit, the stage is set for Mickelson this week more than ever before. Sunday is his 43rd birthday, he had the drama early in the week when he flew overnight from California to make his first-round tee time and we are, after all, in Phil-adelphia. But we’ve seen this move before, we know how it ends.

Schwartzel has made 12 birdies this week, which are tied for most in the field with Donald, Day and Morgan Hoffman. He’s only a shot behind, has the firepower, has the demeanor and already has a major win.

Sunday at Merion, Schwartzel will pick up his second.


Steve Stricker breaks through and wins the U.S. Open with his marvelous wedge game and putter.

At 46, he becomes the oldest winner of the U.S. Open, surpassing Hale Irwin, who was 45 when he won at Medinah in 1990.

Stricker will win because he’ll make the fewest mistakes Sunday. He’ll make ball-striking mistakes, everyone will under major championship pressure at Merion, but he will erase them with that short game of his.

Stricker writes his own special Father’s Day winning story. He cut back his schedule significantly this year so he could be with his wife, Nicki, and their two daughters back in Madison, Wis.


This is Phil Mickelson’s time. I mean, if for no other reason than the law of averages.

There are two ways to view Mickelson’s career at the U.S. Open. Either he’s been a terrific competitor at this event who on five separate occasions was beaten by just one other player in the field, or he’s the consummate underachiever, flailing and failing every single time he’s had an opportunity to win.

Put me down for the former. You can’t finish runner-up at a tourney five times without being a great player. Sometimes players need to experience the lowest of lows at a tournament before finally achieving the highest of highs.

Mickelson knows all about that. The man who shed himself of the Best Player To Have Never Won A Major label almost a full decade ago now has an opportunity to shed himself of another unenviable label.

It’s his time. He’s going to win the U.S. Open. Finally.


This is not 1999 Phil, when destiny dealt him a wet and wild heartbreak, or 2006 Phil, when his U.S. Open title caromed off a corporate tent and into major championship lore, or even 2009 Phil, when all of greater New York City couldn’t will him to a title. This Phil is different.

This Phil showed up, albeit a tad jet-lagged following a cross country odyssey in his quest to win “Father of the Year” honors, with no driver in his bag and no delusions of grandeur.

A five-time runner-up at his national championship, this Phil arrived in Philly with a plan to hit fairways, at whatever the cost, and greens and shrug off the inevitable bogey because, after an extended scouting trip last week to storied Merion, a birdie was waiting just over the next hill.

When he bogeyed two of his first five holes on Saturday he didn’t send caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay scrambling to the players’ parking lot to fetch his driver, he waited and played eight of his last nine holes in 3 under, shrugging off a closing bogey as a cost of doing business on the East Course.

This Phil Mickelson has gotten sideways at the U.S. Open in the past trying to do too much, but on Sunday at Merion he is poised to do just enough to finally put all those heartbreaks behind him and hoist the one trophy that has truly eluded him.


Steve Stricker.

As writers, we always root for the best story. On Sunday, that would probably be a Phil Mickelson win, because he’s an arthritic Hall of Famer who turns 43 on Sunday, and because he’s been a five-time U.S. Open runner-up, and because it’d be a fitting end to Father’s Day, after his cross-country flight Wednesday night to attend his daughter’s eighth-grade graduation. I get it.

The next-best story? That’d be a Steve Stricker victory. After all, he cut back his schedule this year to spend more time with his family. He resurrected his career after a few dark years. The City of Brotherly Love could weep right along with the Strickers.

And that could very well happen Sunday. No one in the top 10 on the leaderboard has better ball-striking splits through three rounds than Stricker, who is tied for eighth in fairways hit and T-2 in greens. That he is currently T-37 in putting actually makes me even more encouraged. When U.S. Open pressure begins to overwhelm the field on a (finally!) firm-and-fast Merion, I’ll take my chances with one of the best putters on Tour in the past decade-plus.