5 things to watch for on US Open Sunday

Phil Mickelson reacts after putting on the 17th hole during the third round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Merion Golf Club, Saturday, June 15, 2013, in Ardmore, Pa. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Phil Mickelson reacts after putting on the 17th hole during the third round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Merion Golf Club, Saturday, June 15 in Ardmore, Pa. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Here are five things to watch for during Sunday’s final round of the 113th US Open:

1. How hard will the course play? Merion has been difficult all week, with only 17 under-par scores through the first three rounds, an average of nearly six per day. The low score has been 67, and the average score has been 74.5. Expect similar numbers in the final round, maybe a notch lower, because the setup is similar to the first three days, but shorter. At just 6,853 yards, it’s the shortest Merion will play any of the four days.

Who does that favor? No matter the yardage, those who do well in the final round will be the ones who keep their golf ball in the fairway. As anyone who plays golf knows, it’s hard to score well if you’re not hitting fairways. Multiply that by 100 at a US Open, especially at Merion, because the rough is so high. Of those in contention, Hunter Mahan has hit the most fairways through three rounds, 36 for 42.

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2. Can a first-timer win? Absolutely. The last four US Opens have been won by players who made it their first major championship: Webb Simpson last year, Rory McIlroy (2011), Graeme McDowell (2010), and Lucas Glover (2009). Among the top 10 players on the leader board, only two players, Phil Mickelson and Charl Schwartzel, own majors. The other eight – Mahan, Steve Stricker, Justin Rose, Luke Donald, Billy Horschel, Jason Dayy, Rickie Fowler, and amateur Michael Kim – would love to join the major champions’ club.

3. Can a Brit finally win? Tony Jacklin was the last to do it in 1970. But in Donald and Rose, you can bet hopes are high across the pond. Both are 1 over, two shots behind Mickelson, and in a tie for fifth. They’ll need a low final round.

4. Can an amateur win? No. Kim is a nice player, with a bright future. But he’s a 19-year-old who just finished his sophomore year at California, and admitted to being nervous late in the third round when he made a run up the leader board. Expect the nerves to continue. He’ll be low amateur, but don’t expect him to make a serious Sunday run.

5. Can Phil finally win? The people’s choice, by and large, Mickelson has finished second in the US Open a record five times. His final-round scores in those five runner-ups is solid: 70, 70, 71, 74, 71. The 74 came the only time he’s been the 54-hole leader, in 2006 at Winged Foot. While he’s not running out of chances, you’d have to think that if he doesn’t win this one, he might be forever cursed, lumped in with Sam Snead as great players who just, for whatever reason, couldn’t find a way to win the US Open. We’ll know in a few hours. Enjoy the golf.