The weather made a brief return appearance down the back nine, a hard rain falling for 15 or so minutes. There were enough adventures down that final stretch to fill an Indiana Jones movie. Maybe two.
Rose looked to be in trouble after a bogey on No. 11, but hit a great wedge to within a few feet on No. 12.
On No. 15, Mickelson left a wedge short – “I quit on it,” he mused to his caddie – leaving him on the front few inches of the green. With a vicious side ridge in his way, he pulled a sand wedge and thinned it well past the cup, setting up a bogey.
Up ahead, at No. 16, Rose blasted an uphill putt a good 10-feet long and needed two to get back, suffering his fourth three-putt of the week.
Meanwhile, Hunter Mahan was missing too many critical shots and Day was trying to fight his way into the clubhouse at two over, thinking that score might give him a shot at a playoff. His par putt on No. 18 lipped out, leaving him at three over.
Playing two holes ahead of Mickelson, Rose figured that he needed to par the last hole. His second shot flew directly at the flag, then rolled off the back of the green, just into the chunky stuff. The Englishman pulled a fairway metal and tapped the ball to within an inch, leaving a kick-in for par.
Mickelson had seen all sides of No. 18 this week with a par, birdie and bogey. But on Sunday his three-wood off the tee missed well left and he could not recover.
Rose, watching the finish with his wife in the clubhouse, was overcome with emotion.
Justin Rose leads, Phil Mickelson and Hunter Mahan one shot back | 3:35 p.m.
Tilting his head back, Phil Mickelson glanced skyward.
“What’s the lightning forecast?” he asked. “Is there much in the area?”
At a U.S. Open bedeviled by inclement weather, the rain and wind once again became factors on Sunday afternoon.
Moments after asking about potential thunderstorms, Mickelson watched his tee shot ride a high wind off the backside of the 13th green, leaving him with a deep lie and a treacherous flop. The result? A two-putt bogey.
The setback did not cost him too dearly, not with leader Justin Rose making bogey on a semi-shanked bunker shot at No. 14.
That left Rose at even par, Mickelson and Hunter Mahan at one over and Jason Day at two over.
At least the conditions –- and the course layout –- had provided some separation with the rest of the pack by 6:30 p.m. EDT.
The likes of Luke Donald, Billy Horschel, Rickie Fowler and Steve Stricker had fallen away, mired at five strokes back with only a puncher’s chance of making a run through Merion’s final five holes.
That stretch is built over a former quarry where large men used to bang rock from the ground. A century later, the golfers sometimes look as if they are playing with a sledgehammer, the dense rough and tricky greens causing all manner of unattractive shots.
Heavy rains appeared to wane after only 15 minutes or so, but still figured to makes things even more challenging down the home stretch.
Justin Rose leads, Phil Mickelson one back | 3:10 p.m.