PINEHURST, N.C. -- Phil Mickelson started the week as the story to follow at Pinehurst No. 2. He is the unquestioned fan-favorite here, 15 years after the first of what would be six runner-up finishes in the US Open. But after a third round 72, Mickelson has slid out of the spotlight that was stolen by a white-hot Martin Kaymer.
That's not to say that fans here at Pinehurst were skeptical of his chances heading into the day. Mickelson teed off just before noon, sitting 13 strokes off the lead. He was paired with Webb Simpson, a North Carolina native and former US Open champion, and followed by a hoard of fans that easily outnumbered any other group so far on the course.
Phil and Webb is the perfect storm of fan interest here at Pinehurst. But what was surprising was how much more vocal the Phil fans were, and how desparately they wanted to see Mickelson make a move up the leaderboard.
There were moments of hope for those fans, like Mickelson bouncing back from a bogey on the Par 3 6th with a birdie on the 7th hole. Or on the 10th hole, where Lefty showcased his brilliant chipping game from a tough spot near the grandstand behind the hole, saving par after sending his drive into the worst of the wiregrass left of the fairway. But those flashes were few and far between, as Mickelson stayed steady with 14 pars when fans were hoping for birdies.
The calls of "Come on, Phil!" seemed as exasperated as encouraging, as the biggest story for many fans ended with two bogeys in the final final five holes (on 14 and 16).
Mickelson will still have a large following on Sunday, but the sense of eager anticipation -- which was palpable on Thursday and Friday -- will be gone. We will have to wait and see how Martin Kaymer finishes to know if that sense excitement will follow for any other players in the field.
Phil on his goal Sunday: "Play solid, shoot 4-5 under, get back to even par, finish 2nd again." Why not? #usopen2014— Dave Shedloski (@DaveShedloski) June 14, 2014
Mickelson smiled after dropping the one-liner and also added that he thought he "hit it really good" during the round.
"My results aren't very good, but my game doesn't feel bad," Mickelson said. "I'm not discouraged about my game. I'm not watered about it. I just -- I haven't quite put it together yet."
For the latest updates, follow our 2014 US Open Leaderboard.