ARDMORE, Pennsylvania -- Phil Mickelson has seen this script, hasn't he? He's played this tournament 22 times before and been as close as second, five times. A few of those silver-medal finishes have been agonizing, some self-inflicted flubs when he had the tournament all but won.
But on Sunday, which just happens to be his birthday and Father's Day, the guy who flew through the night from one coast to another just to be at his daughter's graduation, has yet one more opportunity to win the U.S. Open.
After 54 holes, he's the only guy in red figures on what's turned out to be a brutal Merion Golf Course. Despite being atop the leaderboard, Mickelson is a long way from getting his hands on the hardware, something he knows all too well. He's had his heart broken so many times over the years – Pinehurst, Winged Foot, Bethpage . . . the list goes on, but he is still the ever-smiling Phil, the guy who is relishing one more trip around the course.
"It's going to be a fun day [Sunday]," he said. "I'm really looking forward to it I'm looking forward to facing the challenge of Merion again. It's a wonderful test."
We won't know until Sunday night – or possibly even Monday – if this is Phil's time, but there are signs that lead me to believe he may finally get the title he's coveted longer than any other.
For instance, while many of the other challengers were struggling home Saturday, Mickelson was easing into top spot. The birdie he made on the 17th hole on Saturday has to rank as one of the top of the day. That hole was playing 254 yards and he ripped a four-iron – a four-iron! -- calling it one of the best shots he's ever hit. It left him with an uphill putt for the birdie. That was one of just five birdies made on that hole in the third round.
The fact that he doesn't have a driver in the bag would seem to strengthen his chances. It was that driver he hit into trouble on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot, which eventually cost him the crown that year. He later referred to himself as an "idiot" for using it.
Without the big stick, he's hit 30 of 42 fairways here this week and while that's not tops in the field, it certainly seems to be better than Phil's usual number.
It won't be easy over the final 18 holes. There is a gaggle of exceptionally talented golfers also hungry for a major title. With the exception of Billy Horschel, the top nine players on the leaderboard are all within the top 35 in the world ranking.
And the tournament will almost certainly be decided over the last five holes, a tough stretch that has played almost two shots over par. The most difficult hole may be the last – not one player in the field birdied it in the third round. There have been only 11 birdies there all week.
Saturday night was likely a restless one for Mickelson, who admitted he doesn't sleep that well during majors. But on Sunday night, he may experience a dream come true if he finally gets over the top at Merion.