We convened a special edition of our PGA Confidential roundtable to make their predictions for the final round of the U.S. Open at Merion.
The question is simple: Who wins on Sunday, and who gets their heart broken?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Let's face it, Phil is the people's choice and the sentimental favorite. He showed me a lot by coming back from a lousy front nine and hitting some terrific shots on the back to regain the lead. Though I feel somewhat like a fooled-again-Cubs-fan by saying this, this one might finally be Phil's. The heartbreak will be saved for Schwartzel and Donald and maybe Mahan, and it looks like it's going to come on the final two holes, which kicked an enormous amount of rear ends in the third round.
Alan Bastable, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Winner: I'll take the only guy among the leaders who already has a major title but not the scar tissue from five runner-up finishes at the Open: Charl Schwartzel. Phil, Luke, Stricker, Mahan, and Rose all want (or need) it too badly, and come late Sunday, desire can hurt more than help. Heartbroken: Like I have to answer that.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: The best putter, Steve Stricker, wins the U.S. Open on Sunday. Phil Mickelson breaks our hearts once again, but it's softened by Stricker's historic victory.
Jessica Marksbury, assistant editor, Golf Magazine: I know it's not very original at this point, but my vote is for Phil! After five heartbreaking misses at the U.S. Open, this has been his tournament since the very first round. And the storyline just doesn't get any better on Sunday: it's his birthday, Father's Day, and he has the chance to finally achieve the elusive title that he so desperately desires. His first round could have been deemed a fluke of red-eye adrenaline, but his second and third showcased the grit, patience and the determination we have come to expect from a Hall of Famer. I sure hope he gets it done, in dramatic fashion!
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Well, on Wednesday I picked Rose and Stricker to finish 1-2, so I can't run away from it now. Rose entered the week leading the Tour in total driving — a big reason I picked him — and that will serve him well on Sunday. Plus, he's due to finally take home his first major. And obviously, anything short of victory would be crushing for Phil. Can you imagine Rose taking him down again in a callback to last year's epic Ryder Cup singles match? Ouch.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I think Phil wins. He keeps saying after every round that he played better than he scored. He also keeps bouncing back just when you think he'll fade away, and so I think he really believes he can bounce back Sunday, too, when he gets the odd bad break, as seems inevitable. I think Rose hangs around until the very end and Phil beats him at the end, reversing the result of their Ryder Cup singles match last fall.
Coleman McDowell, contributor, SI Golf+: Winner: Rickie Fowler. He trails Mickelson by four shots, which means nothing at a course like Merion where fortunes change in an instant. He only has one Tour win, but that didn't stop Rory McIlroy at Congressional in 2011 or Webb Simpson in 2012. On the week, Fowler is fifth in greens in regulation (40 of 54) and fourth in birdies (11). And the past four U.S. Open champs were under 30. Fowler definitely fits that category. Heartbreak: Phil Mickelson. He will inevitably have the lead of the Open heading into the final hole, you can just feel it. And as picture-perfect as a win on Father's Day would be, it won't happen. Phil wants this tournament more than ever, and it's right in his grasp. But the tee shot on 18 here at Merion is the most daunting of any on the course. And it doesn't get easier from there. Phil won't be able to handle it and will be fitted for a bridesmaids dress once again.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Winner: Phil Mickelson. This course has captured Mickelson's imagination the way Augusta National does, with similar results. The heartbreak: Hunter Mahan. Merion will put too much pressure on his short game to keep up with Mickelson and Donald.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Those tears 2013 U.S. Open champion Steve Stricker sheds will also be for the heartbreak he feels for Phil Mickelson, who will finish second at a U.S. Open for a record sixth time. Nobody has played better golf through the first 54 holes than Phil, and that's why I think he won't win. Considering the way he has played from tee to green as well as the number of quality putts he's rolled that could have dropped, Mickelson could easily be four or five shots clear of the field. That's going to come back and bite him tomorrow. That said, I hope I'm wrong.