Phil Mickelson (Getty Images)
Phil Mickelson will take a one shot lead into the final round of the US Open Championship as the American seeks a fairytale victory at Merion.
The left-hander – five times a US Open runner-up - shot a one under par 69 on a fascinating third day in Pennsylvania, and now has a fantastic opportunity to win the event for the first time on his 43rd birthday.
Compatriots Hunter Mahan and Steve Stricker and South Africa’s former Masters Tournament champion Charl Schwartzel are Mickelson’s nearest challengers on level par.
Meanwhile, Luke Donald and Justin Rose will aim to claim their first Major titles and end a 43-year wait for an English winner of the US Open.
Mickelson started the week by flying home to California on Monday as torrential rain closed the practice facilities at Merion, and then attended his daughter's eighth-grade graduation on Wednesday evening before flying back to Philadelphia overnight in his private jet in time for a 7:11am start on Thursday.
Remarkably he shot an opening 67 and followed that up with rounds of 72 and 70 to finish one under par, the only man in red figures as Merion's East Course - feared to be too short by modern standards at 6,996 yards and staging the US Open for the first time since 1981 - more than held its own.
Mickelson hit just one fairway on the front nine as he turned in a two over 38, but fought back with birdies at the tenth and 11th and, having almost chipped in at
the 15th, played a superb tee shot to the par three 17th and converted from 12 feet.
He failed to get up-and-down from the back of the last, but still remained ahead and of the six players closest to him, only Schwartzel has won a Major.
Mickelson, whose daughter Amanda was born the day after his first runners-up
finish in 1999, was also second in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2009, famously saying after a double bogey on the 72nd hole in 2006: "I just can't believe that I did that, I'm such an idiot."
"It's going to be a fun day tomorrow," he said after his round.
"I'm looking forward to it and the challenge of Merion. I love being in the thick of it.
"I have had opportunities to win and it's been fun even though it has been heart-breaking
to let it slide, but I feel better equipped than ever and I feel very comfortable on this course.
"Given that I have had some Major successes I feel as equipped as I could be. I don't think I feel any more pressure than anyone else who wants to win. But it would certainly mean a lot to me."
Donald was leading after 16 holes but bogeyed the 17th and double-bogeyed the last after twice tangling with heavy rough.
Rose also dropped shots at the last two holes but remains firmly in contention with Merion's fearsome closing stretch making
nothing a certainty
in Sunday's final round.