Mickelson on the mark early
First-round 63 breaks course record at British Open as Americans dominate
TROON, SCOTLAND — Phil Mickelson broke the course record at Royal Troon with a round of 8under-par 63 on Thursday, opening a three-shot lead at the British Open golf tournament on a day when favourable conditions led to a run of low scores.
Americans held seven of the top eight places on the leaderboard when Mickelson finished at 18. Mickelson’s round could have been even better: his birdie attempt at the final hole circled the cup and then hung tantalizingly on the lip as Mickelson put his hand over his mouth in disbelief.
The birdie would have been his ninth of the round — against no bogeys — and would have produced the first round of 62 at a major championship. Instead, he wound up tied with dozens of players who have posted 63s, most recently Hiroshi Iwata in the second round of last year’s PGA Championship.
Patrick Reed led an early barrage of low scorers, recording a 5-under 66 on a gorgeous — some might even say unusually placid — morning at Royal Troon.
Reed, who was a recent addition to the team that will represent the United States at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next month, made par on his first two holes before holing out from the fairway for an eagle on the par-4 third hole to jump-start his round.
Like most players will this week, he fared better on the easier opening nine, where the wind is generally favourable, before grinding through the inward nine holes, which are largely into the teeth of the winds.
Americans have won the last six Opens contested at Royal Troon — Todd Hamilton was a surprise winner during the most recent edition, in 2004 — and Reed was not alone among his compatriots in starting strong. Justin Thomas made birdies on his first five holes before closing with a 1-over 36 on the back nine to finish at 67. Steve Stricker and Billy Horschel also recorded 67s, while Rickie Fowler was in a group at 69.
Rory McIlroy, the four-time major winner from Northern Ireland, posted 32 on his front nine but endured an up-and-down back nine, double bogeying the par-4 13th, bogeying No. 14 and then making birdie on the 15th. He finished with a 2-under 69.
Justin Rose of England was two shots behind Reed after a 68. Jordan Spieth, who won the Masters and U.S. Open last year, shot 71. Dustin Johnson, who won the U.S. Open last month, was even after 18.
The conditions certainly helped most of the players. British Opens are often marked by soaking rains and gusty winds, both of which are forecast for Friday, but the sun shone brightly when Colin Montgomerie, the veteran Scottish golfer who is an honorary member at Troon, hit the opening tee shot of the tournament at 6:35 a.m.
Montgomerie, who dominated the European Tour for years but never won a major tournament, is a local favourite but did not have a memorable opening: He ended up in a pot bunker on the first hole and made a double bogey. Undaunted, Montgomerie bounced back with five birdies over the next eight holes and finished at even-par 71.
“I was 3-under on the front nine, and 3-over on the back nine, and that’s par for both,” Montgomerie said.
He added: “And remember, this hasn’t shown any teeth, this course, at all today. This is a three out of 10 job here. Tomorrow, we’re talking seven, eight out of 10 here. And it’s going to be very different.”
Reed, who began his round about 90 minutes after Montgomerie, began by hooking his opening drive left — not how he planned it since he was hitting a 4-iron off the tee — but responded by hitting a wedge on to the green to make par.
Two holes later, he had the exact same yardage — 139 yards — and, feeling comfortable, bounced his approach straight into the cup.
“I already kind of knew what to do because I had it two holes ago, and I happened to hit it right at the flag,” Reed said. “I didn’t see how it went in. But after watching the screens, I think it two- or three-hopped into the hole, and it’s always good to get you going.”
Of course, not all the early starters were able to capitalize. Paul Dunne, a young Irishman who stunned the golf world as an amateur when he entered the final round of the Open last year as the leader, shot 77.
David Duval, a former No. 1 player who captivated crowds a year ago with a third-round 67, opened with an 82.
Phil Mickelson of the United States reacts after his birdie putt narrowly missed the hole on the 18th at Royal Troon in Troon, Scotland, on Thursday.