ARDMORE, Pa. — Is it finally Hunter Mahan's time to shine, after so many years being considered on the verge of greatness? Or perhaps it will be Rickie Fowler, who recorded the best round of the day Saturday, suddenly moving within striking distance of an impressive pack.
By the time they crown a champion at the 113th U.S. Open at Merion on Sunday night — or perhaps Monday — should it come down to a tie necessitating an 18-hole playoff, he certainly will have earned it. Nothing has come easy at the place immortalized by Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan, where Lee Trevino once outdueled Jack Nicklaus in a 1971 playoff.
That doesn't figure to change during today's final round, which is just fine with the Mahan, the 31-year-old former Oklahoma State golfer who briefly held a share of the lead Saturday before two late bogeys dropped him to one-under par 69 for the day, a shot behind Phil Mickelson. Tied with Mahan at even-par 210 are Steve Stricker and former Masters' champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa. Justin Rose, Jason Donald and Billy Horschel are at plus-1, with Fowler, another former Oklahoma State standout, four off the pace at three-over.
“Yeah, it feels good, one of many players near the top — Stricker, Rose, Donald and Horschel — who've never won a major,” Mahan said. “It's exciting.
“I feel like my game's been good for a while and I felt like this course suits me pretty well. It feels good to be in the hunt and be in contention.''
While many players have all but cursed the USGA for the way they've set up the rough and placed the pins in spots nearly impossible to reach, Mahan's more diplomatic. He knows Merion is tough enough on its own.
But he welcomes the challenge ahead.
“This course is very penalizing,” said Mahan, who'll go head-to-head with Mickelson in the final group of the day. “If you hit an errant shot, you're going to have a tough time making par.