ARDMORE, Pa. – You know Phil Mickelson relishes the drama of it all.
You know he lives for authoring storylines like these, unorthodox adventures full of peculiar twists and turns.
With the sun sinking fast on a frustrating Friday full of missed opportunities at Merion, Mickelson’s U.S. Open story continued to twist and turn toward what he hopes will be an unforgettable Father’s Day for his entire family.
On a day filled with missed birdie chances, Mickelson made us wonder if flying cross country after seeing his daughter’s eighth-grade graduation on the eve of this championship was as foolish as it was admirable. It made us wonder about this twist and turn because he looked as if he might already be running out of gas in the second round. He stepped to the 18th tee Friday without a single birdie on his scorecard. His first-round lead was gone, his momentum was fading, his story was beginning to sag.
And then, in the fading light, Mickelson sent a jolt through Merion.
He put a spark back into his bid to win his first U.S. Open.
Mickelson rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt at the last hole to keep his story as the story of this 113th U.S. Open.
Mickelson’s birdie lifted him back atop the leaderboard, this time sharing the top spot with Billy Horschel as the leaders in the clubhouse in the suspended second round.
At 1-under 139, Mickelson and Horschel are the only players left under par.
Mickelson turns 43 on Sunday. Time’s running out in his bid to finally win this major, and that’s why his decision to return home and see his daughter, Amanda, give her graduation speech came with a risk. As wonderful as his motives were, as admirable as his devotion to family is, jetting cross country from his California home in the middle of the night to make his Thursday tee time isn’t the ideal way to prepare to win a major.
It’s all good again after Friday’s finish. That final birdie turned momentum back Mickelson’s way. It fuels his bid to trump the disappointment of five second-place finishes in 22 U.S. Open starts. It makes his decision to try to win the U.S. Open with no driver and five wedges in his bag continue to look good.
“It was great,” Mickelson said. “I wasn’t expecting birdie there.”
“It was a nice way to finish,” Mickelson said. “I fought hard all day.”
Merion wouldn’t be slugged into submission again Friday, not by anyone.
While his 2-over-par 72 was more than respectable with Merion punishing so many of the world’s best players, Mickelson knew his round could have been so much better, nearly as good as his opening-round 67.
“Let a lot of birdie opportunities slide early and in the middle of the round,” Mickelson said. “I fought hard to stay in there and hit a lot of good quality shots. Made a bunch of good pars.”
Mickelson made 10 consecutive pars in the middle of his round. That’s not bad around here, but don’t tell Mickelson that. He missed a 5-foot birdie chance at No. 2, missed a 4-foot birdie chance at No. 8, missed an 8-foot birdie chance at No. 9 and failed to convert yet another good birdie chance at the 11th hole.
On a day when Merion beat up so many players, just getting birdie looks was a minor victory.
Luke Donald made an early move atop the leaderboard Friday, but he made four consecutive bogeys coming home. He sits tied for third.
How tough was it? A trio of major-championship winners were cumulatively 40 over par through the two rounds they played together. Jim Furyk (16 over), Graeme McDowell (13 over) and Zach Johnson (11 over) will all miss the cut.
McDowell left saying he wouldn’t be surprised if 4 over par won this championship.
“It feels good being in contention heading into the weekend,” Mickelson said. “There are a lot of players right there, around par, a couple over. I think this golf course provides a chance to shoot a low round, even though not many players have done it, and it's difficult.”
Mickelson likes his chances of being the guy who shoots a low round.
“The way I have control off the tee and as good as the putter is, even though it didn't show today, I'm very excited about the opportunity this weekend,” he said.