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U.S. Open

Tournament Preview

After 32 years away, the US Open has come back to the Merion Golf Club.

Largely regarded as one of the best, most challenging courses in the country, Merion is also among the smallest, which most believe is the reason the second Major of the year hasn't been back in a while as the sport has ramped up in popularity, attendance and prestige.

But throwing caution to the wind, the USGA is back in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, starting on Thursday, even though it can sell "only" 25,000 tickets for each day and is expected to take a profit loss on the event which is usually the second-most well-known in the country.

Hopefully, the loss won't be seen on the course as well, as strong storms are expected in the area on Thursday with an 80% chance of rain forecast. The course got more than six inches of rain between last Friday and Monday, and was closed both Saturday and some of Monday to dredge out the greens and repair the dirt.

The USGA has already issued a preemptive statement saying that balls that land in the mud must be played from the mud, regardless of what the condition of the surrounding ground is or how much mud adheres to the ball.

A walking official will be on hand to make judgments on balls that land in standing water that is not normally a part of the course - i.e. puddles and such.

It will be an early start Thursday, with first tee time at 6:45 a.m. An early impressive group pairs Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson together at 7 a.m. on the 11th hole, followed by Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson at 7:11 a.m.

Mickelson, who finished tied for second at the St. Jude's Classic in Memphis last weekend, skipped practice at Merion this week to attend his daughter's eighth-grade graduation back home in San Diego.

The money trio comes at 1:14 p.m. when Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott tee it off. McIlroy tried to get into the spirit of great Philadelphia sports moment by sprinting up the "Rocky" steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Wednesday.

Woods is looking to add a fourth US Open title to his ledger. His last Major came at the US Open in 2008. McIlroy took the crown in 2011, and Scott the 2013 Masters.

US Open 2012 champion Webb Simpson follows at 1:36 p.m. along with Steven Fox and Ernie Els.

06/13/13, Thursday

Parents and coaches seeking to convince their young charges that lots of rest and practice are the way to succeed athletically would be wise to keep Friday's sports page out of their kids' hands.

Better to not let them see what Phil Mickelson was up to Thursday at the US Open.

Despite skipping his practice round to fly home to San Diego for his daughter's eighth-grade graduation, then turning around and flying right back to Philadelphia, Mickelson was the leader in the clubhouse after one rain-shortened day at the Merion Golf Club thanks to his 3-under 67.

Mikelson fired four birdies to go with a bogey on No. 11. Technically, he trails Luke Donald by a stroke and is tied with Adam Scott, but neither of those two men has completed his round.

Donald is 4-under through 13 holes thanks to a string of three straight birdies just before the second rain delay.

Scott is 3-under through 11, while 2011 champion Webb Simpson is one of three players tied for fourth at 2-under, although none have finished their first round.

Other than Mickelson, the only man in the clubhouse and the Top 10 who has actually finished his first round.

Former No. 1 Rory McIlroy is one of several players at even par, through 11 holes from the Irishman.

Tiger Woods is 2-over through 10 holes, tied for 51st place. Food was shaky from the start on Thursday, bogeying three of his first five holes.

06/14/13, Friday

What player is winning the US Open after two rounds?

That's a trick question. The course at Merion Golf Club is the real answer ... not to mention a groundhog that pulled the TV cameras away from Phil Mickelson when it raced across the fairways after one of his shots.

Through two rounds of play, just two of the 155 players in the field in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, were under par - Mickelson and 26-year-old Billy Horschel - who tied for the lead at 1-under.

Rain suspended play again late on Friday, with a few players only halfway done with their rounds, and set to start early Saturday. Thankfully for the players, the event and the TV networks, Ardmore has a 0% chance of rain for Saturday, although that chance does rise to 30-50% beginning at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

Once Friday's late players complete the second round, the projected cut is currently sitting at 7-over, which would eliminate about 90 players.

Currently on the wrong side of that mark are notable names like Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, Sang-Moon Bae and Graeme McDowell.

After a 2-over 72 on Thursday that saw him tied for 51st, Horschel hit all 18 greens on Friday, the only player to do so in the tournament so far.

His lone blemish was a bogey on No. 13, but he rolled in a long birdie on No. 18 to finish with a 3-under 67.

Mickelson, who started the tournament with a 67, shot a 2-over 72, but managed to stay tied for the lead with a birdie on No. 18. Five players sit at even par, including two who haven't finished their second rounds.

In the clubhouse one stroke back entering Sturday are Luke Donald, Steve Stricker and Justin Rose.

England's Ian Poulter is at 1-under in the second round through 14, but the real dark horse is 21-year-old Cheng Tsung Pan. Pan, a native of Taiwan, is the No. 6 amateur in the world and attends the University of Washington, putting him 2,812 miles from his adopted home and 7,831 miles from his birthplace, is 2-under through nine holes and even over the first 27 holes.

Former US Open champions Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy continued to match each other's scores as both men fired par 70s to each sit 3-over, tied for 17th.

Wood started strong with two birdies in his first four holes, but had three bogeys and just one birdie the rest of the way.

McIlroy had another roller coaster round, the kind that seems to be his standard for 2013. He amassed four bogeys and four birdies for the round.
 06/15/13, Saturday

With his toothy smile, affable demeanor and status as a crowd favorite, it's impossible to call Phil Mickelson an intimidator on the course.

His tee shot on the 17th hole of the US Open Saturday in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, did the dirty work for him.

On the hole most well-known for its stadium-esque seating around the green, Mickelson put his first shot eight feet from the hole, then sank the birdie putt to leapfrog Luke Donald at the top of the leaderboard.

Donald, who entered the hole 2-under for the day hit his tee shot into a bunker and wound up bogeying 17 then doubling 18 to drop to 1-over and into a tie for fifth.

At 1-under for the tournament, Mickelson is the only player below par in the field. It hardly gives him a lead of much substance though, three of the tour's best players throughout 2013 - South Africa's Charl Schwartzel and the US's Hunter Mahan and Steve Stricker are all at even par through three rounds.

Sunday's final round is setting up as a perfect storm for Mickelson. Not only is it Father's Day,  but also his 43rd birthday. Mickelson is seeking his first-ever win at the US Open after finishing second five different times.

Schwartzel could have jumped Mickelson for the lead, but he bogeyed 17 and 18 to finish 1-under on the day. Mahan suffered the same fate after charging into the mix with birdies on 10, 12, 13 and 16.

In all, nine players are within five strokes of the lead entering the final round.

Australia's Jason Day fired a 2-under 68 to move to 2-over, and American Rickie Fowler had the best round of the day, a 3-under 67 to get to 3-over for the tournament.

For much of the day, the eyes of the tournament were firmly on 19-year-old Cal student Michael Kim, a native of Seoul Korea. Kim hit four birdies in a six-hole stretch to drop to even par on the tournament, but stumbled down the stretch with two bogeys and a double on the final three holes to slide back to 4-over.

The two other big names in the field both bombed ou on Saturday. American Tiger Woods shot a 6-over 76 to fall to a tie for 31st at 9-over. Woods birdies the first hole, then hit bogeys on seven of the final 17.

Former No. 1 Rory McIlroy wasn't much better, hitting a 5-over 75 thanks largely to a four bogeys in five holes stretch on the front nine.

Eight over wound up being the cut at the end of round two. Those who made it weren't guaranteed any special treatment however, as Saturday's sunny skies and high humidity saw the worst scores yet, lowlighted by Sweden's Robert Karlsson, who finished 16-over for the day in a round featuring seven bogeys, two doubles and one triple.

06/16/13, Sunday

In the end, it didn't take a dazzling array of birdies or eagles to win the 113th US Open.

Justin Rose just had to come away from Sunday's final round on even terms with the Merion Golf Club.

The 32-year-old Englishman did just that, nailing clutch par putts on the final two holes  to secure the first major championship of his career and turn American Phil Mickelson into the Open's runner-up for a heart-breaking sixth time.

Rose started the final round two strokes behind Mickelson,  but fought his way into the lead with three birdies on the front nine. He gave the lead back when Mickelson landed a dazzling 76-foot eagle on No. 10, but the affable American who celebrated his 43rd birthday Sunday could not close late, hitting bogeys on 13, 15 and 18 to finish with a 3-over 74, his worst round of the weekend.

Rose finished with  a 71-69-71-70 281, meaning 1-over was good enough for the title and a check for $1.44 million. He is the first resident of the UK to win the US Open in 43 years.

Twenty-five-year-old Australian Jason Day was 1-over on Sunday to finish tied for second. Like Mickelson, he faded late, with bogeys on 11, 14 and 18.

After having at least a share of the lead over the first three days, Mickelson came unglued early on Sunday, hitting a pair of double bogeys early sandwiched around a birdie to lose the lead.

While most players were struggling to find the fairways, American Jason Dufner, who tied for fourth and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, who tied for 10th, each matched the best round of the tournament with matching 3-under 67s.

Dufner was a distant 8-over to start Sunday, but began turning heads when he fired off five birdies in the first 13 holes to drop to 3-over. All of his hard work came unglued when he recorded a triple-bogey 7 on No. 15.

Duner wound up in a four-way tie for fourth with Billy Horschel, Hunter Mahan and Ernie Els.

Horschel was two shots off the lead entering Sunday, but quickly played his way out of contention with three bogeys in the first five holes.

Mahan started the day a stroke behind MIckelson and was 2-over through 14, then doubled 15 and bogeyed 17 and 18.  Things went just as poorly for Luke Donald, 1-over through three rounds. He had a string of three bogeys and one double bogey between No. 3 and 6, ultimately finishing tied for eighth with at 6-over, the same score he recorded on Sunday.

American Tiger Woods was a mere footnote on Sunday, largely due to his triple bogey 8 on No. 2. Woods finished tied for 32nd with a 13-over 73-70-764-74 - 293 to earn $47,246. He finished one shot ahead for former Open champ Rory McIlroy and two strokes ahead of Spanish rival Sergio Garcia.

The more impressive footnote came courtesy American Shawn Stefani. Stefani was 5-over through two rounds before imploding with an 85 on Saturday.  He righted his ship with three early birdies on Sunday, then got the biggest roar of the weekend with an ace on No. 17 that bounced in the fringe and back onto the green, taking a long ponderous roll to the cup for the first hole-in-one at an US Open since 1906.

Tournament Recap

All the key components were there. Mickelson tugged the heart strings by heading back home to San Diego, forgoing practice rounds to be there for his daughter's junior high graduation ceremony.

At the Merion Golf Club, he battled the massively challenging course and emerged victorious with a 3-under 67 on Day One, and through three rounds he was the only man in the field under par.

And even when he got off to a bad start on Sunday, which was also Father's Day and his 43rd birthday, Mickelson seemed finally ready to bury the ghosts of five previous US Open second-place finishes when he rifled in a 76-foot eagle on No. 10 to reclaim the lead.

Alas, it was not to be for golf's favorite lefty. Three bogeys down the stretch allowed Britain's Justin Rose to slip past him and into his first-ever Major title, finishing the tournament at 1-over with a 71-69-71-60 - 281.

The last time a Brit won the US Open, the year was 1970, Tony Jacklin took the crown in Chasaka, Minnesota to win $30,000, and Rose would not be born for another 10 years.

It's the second straight year that the winning score was above par, matching Webb SImpson's 1-over at Olympic Club in San Francisco in 2012.  Since 1980, the winning score has been above part just three times.

Rose was one of several men to lead or hold a share of the lead on Sunday, including Mickelson, Australia's Jason Day and America's Hunter Mahan. After bogeying No. 17 and 18 on Day 3, Rose pared both on Sunday, which made the biggest difference, as it meant the men behind him had to be under par on No. 18 to have a chance to force a playoff ... and not one single birdie or better was record on No. 18 in the entire tournament.

Mickelson had few words to sum up how he felt in the post-tournament press conference.

"Heartbreak," he said. "This is tough to swallow after coming so close. This was my best chance of all of them. I had a golf course I really liked. I felt this was a s good an opportunity as you could ask for. It really hurts."

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