Phil Mickelson leads US Open after three rounds; can he close?

Can Phil Mickelson finally close out a US Open? (USATSI)
Can Phil Mickelson finally close out a US Open? (USATSI)

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Five times.

1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2009.

Five times Phil Mickelson has finished second at the US Open. Each has seemingly been more memorable than the last. The most famous, of course, is the one in 2006 when he doinked the tent on No. 18 and handed the trophy to Geoff Ogilvy.

He led the Open that year after three rounds -- he shared the lead with Kenneth Ferrie of England. He couldn't close.

He's never led outright after 54 holes of the United States Open, though, like he does this year. And if we're being real here, this time might be his last time.

The soon-to-be-43-year-old (his birthday is Sunday) hasn't been in contention at this tournament in a while but he has a chance to cap off what has been the most spectacular of careers in style.

This is the one he wants the most.

He has his green jackets, he's done the Ryder Cup thing, and won the U.S. Amateur.

This is the one.

Last time (and only time) he had the outright lead at any major after three rounds was at the 2006 Masters. He went on to win that one.

His back nine on Saturday at Merion was a work of art. After two bogeys on the front nine, and a period of time when he trailed multiple guys for the lead, Lefty poured in birdies at Nos. 10, 11, and 17 to finish with an even-par 70.

His birdie-bogey finish at Nos. 17-18 might win the tournament on Sunday as those two holes are playing ridiculously tough. There were zero birdies and 10 double bogeys at No. 18 on Saturday.

Here's a look at his birdie on No. 17 -- it induces a roar that some at the tournament said was the loudest of the week:

Mickelson told Steve Sands of NBC he's excited about Sunday.

"It is a hard challenge but it's fun. I can't wait to get back out playing. I think it's going to take an under-par round tomorrow."

He's the only man under par right now.

And on Sunday, the Philadelphia fans will serenade him with renditions of "Happy Birthday."

It will only be happy if he's hoisting silver at dusk.

For more golf news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnGolf and @KylePorterCBS on Twitter or Google+ and like us on Facebook.

CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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