Ernie Els (Getty Images)
Ernie Els enjoyed an up-and-down closing round to grab a share of the clubhouse lead in the US Open Championship.
The South African started the day seven shots adrift, and his challenge looked to have ended with a double bogey at the fifth.
But The Open Champion birdied the seventh, 15th and 17th – the latter after a fine approach to three feet – and despite a bogey at the last joined Jason Dufner in the clubhouse on five over par at Merion.
“I hit a very nice shot - I was just trying to get as much out of my round as I could,” Els said of his four iron to the penultimate hole.
“Unfortunately I bogeyed 18, but some really nice shots, started playing the course the way it should be played.
“It's been an unbelievable venue this week. The course definitely held up -it was a great setup. The rough was tough, everything about it was just wonderful and the fans were unbelievable.
With the leaders frenetically clinging to their scores, that was enough for Dufner and Els to be tied sixth as Phil Mickelson regained the on-course lead
in spectacular style.
The left-hander, five times a runner-up in this event and seeking his first win on his 43rd birthday, had two double bogeys in his first five holes before a pitch-in eagle two at the tenth
took him back to level par for the tournament.
That was one ahead of England’s Justin Rose, Australian Jason Day and American Hunter Mahan.
Rose began the day two shots off the lead held by five-time runner-up Mickelson and got off to a poor start with a bogey on the third, but birdied the fourth and, after another dropped shot on the fifth, picked up shots on the sixth and seventh.
With Merion playing havoc with the leading groups, that was enough to lead on level par before a three-putt bogey on the 11th, only for Mickelson to then reignite his chances of a fifth Major title.
Mickelson, who flew home to California on Monday and attended his daughter's eighth-grade graduation on Wednesday evening before flying back overnight for a 7:11am start on Thursday, had three-putted the third and fifth for double bogeys and reached the turn in 39.
He then missed the fairway on the short par four tenth, only to hole his approach from the rough from 76 yards.
Rose must have heard the enormous roar from the crowds but promptly hit his second shot to the 12th to two feet for birdie to join Mickelson on level par.
Australian Day was a shot behind after chipping in for a bogey five on the 11th after finding water off the tee and almost doing so again with his fourth shot, while Mahan was also one over after nine pars and one bogey.
Dufner equalled the lowest round of the week with a 67, despite taking a triple bogey seven on the 15th.
Steve Stricker, one shot off the lead held by Ryder Cup team-mate Mickelson starting the day, was also five over after hitting his tee shot out of bounds on the par five second and, after finding the fairway with his second ball, shanking that out of bounds as well to run up a triple-bogey eight.
Rose reclaimed the outright lead with another birdie on the 13th before the forecast rain arrived to make life even more difficult as he began the daunting closing stretch.
The last five holes were all ranked among the nine toughest for the week, with the 18th the hardest at an average of 4.71. The good news for Mickelson was that he had played that stretch in one under par; the bad news for Rose was that he had done so in six over.
The 14th duly cost Rose a shot when he found a greenside bunker with his approach as the heaviest spell of rain came down, but Mickelson - carrying five wedges and no driver - used one of those wedges to fire his tee shot on the 13th over the green.
The resulting bogey on the easiest hole all week meant Rose again held a one shot lead over Mickelson and Mahan.