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Patience will be key to winning

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- Give me first pick in the fantasy draft of tools needed to win the U.S. Open, and I will look right past the highway-stripe drives and the trick-shot short games. I'll take Open patience every time.

Give me the kind of patience that makes a kindergarten teacher look like Robin Williams on stage. Grant me the ability to take the punches that Shinnecock Hills delivered Saturday and stride to the next tee unbothered.

Anyone can make the double bogey that Phil Mickelson made at the par-3 seventh, a hole as unfair as USA-Egypt Olympic basketball. Give me the focus to follow that double with eight pars and a birdie.

"We've seen birdies on 5 and 16," Mickelson said Saturday evening, referring to the two par-5s. "You throw in 16 pars and that's a heck of a round of 68 right there."

Mickelson missed that by five shots, finishing bogey-bogey to shoot 73 and finish at 3-under 207, tied for second and two strokes behind Retief Goosen. Only three players broke par in the third round, largely because the greens dried out like Tuesday's focaccia.

In every other PGA Tour event, Saturday is referred to as Moving Day, because anyone who puts up a low number moves up the leaderboard. At the Open, the best players stood still and watched the field recede behind them.

"Par is winning the battle," said Fred Funk, who led briefly on the back nine Saturday. "Birdie is overwhelming it."

There's a reason the final twosome Sunday will feature the South African duo of Goosen and Ernie Els: Neither has a pulse that rises above the speed limit. The only thing drier than the greens at Shinnecock Hills is Goosen.

"It doesn't matter who you are, you're going to be nervous when you play out there," Goosen said after his 1-under 69 put him at 5-under 205, two strokes ahead of Els and Mickelson. "It's how you handle the pressure, that's all."

Goosen delivered this pearl of wisdom with all the energy of a motor vehicle clerk at 4:59 p.m. on a Friday. That is Open patience. Goosen showed it three years ago at Southern Hills, when he missed from 12 feet and again from three feet, on the 72nd hole and fell into a playoff with Mark Brooks. Goosen left the three-putt behind and dusted Brooks on Monday.

Open patience allows for no aggression, which makes it different from the most recent major championship.

"Par is good on every hole here," said Mike Weir, the 2003 Masters champion who is in eighth place, five strokes behind Goosen, at exactly even par. "At Augusta, you have to take chances. You have to make birdies. It's a different kind of patience."

Asked whether he would come out aggressively on Sunday, Mickelson sounded incredulous.

"Oh, heavens, no. Are you kidding me?" he said, "On this golf course? No."

(That reminds me. With my second pick in the fantasy draft, give me the patience to answer questions in just this way.)

Give me the patience not to look at the leaderboard, like Lee Janzen in the final round when he won his second U.S. Open at Olympic in 1998. Funk, though, couldn't help himself.

"I actually said to Mark [Long, his caddie], 'Hey isn't this cool? I'm leading the U.S. Open right here,' " Funk said after the round.

"He says, 'Hey, it doesn't mean anything until tomorrow.'

"I said, 'I know, but it's still pretty cool.' "

And then Funk bogeyed three of his last five holes.

Els, as you would say about anyone with two Open victories, has Open patience too. With his Mel Torme swing and gliding gait, Els never looks harried. When he bogeyed the seventh and eighth holes, Els fell to 2-under, four strokes out of the lead. It wasn't the first time Els had his patience tested at Shinnecock Hills. The pre-Open favorite began the tournament par-double bogey-bogey.

That might have given Els reason to twitch. Last year, he shot 79 in the first round at Augusta and 78 in the first round of the British Open, and never climbed back into contention. But Els doesn't twitch. Thursday, he birdied three of his next seven holes, got back to even, and that's where he finished.

Neither he nor Goosen has shot a round over par this week. Els capped off a back nine of 1-under Saturday with an up-and-down for par at 18 and another 70. Lo and behold, he was in second place.

"I knew it was going to be tough for everybody," Els said. "You're not going to shoot very much under par today. I tried to keep it around par or better, and I made a good save to shoot 70 today."

Shinnecock Hills this week has been as unforgiving as the mortgage bill. Add to that demand the simple task of standing on the first tee in one of the last groups of the final round of the U.S. Open and not losing your lunch, and you've got an idea of what Sunday will be like.

"It's going to be fun for people to watch," Funk said. "A bunch of car wrecks -- Daytona with a bunch of oil all over it."

The race won't go to the fastest, and Damon Runyon notwithstanding, that's not the way to bet Sunday. The guy who maintains control behind the wheel will get the checkered flag.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com