Mick­el­son shines in wind and rain, keeps Bri­tish Open lead

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DOUG FER­GU­SON TROON, SCOTLAND

— Phil Mick­el­son has nearly ev­ery­thing go­ing his way at this Bri­tish Open. He has con­trol of his shots and the flight of his ball in the wind and rain. He has the low­est 36-hole to­tal at Royal Troon. He even caught a break with the weather, his black rain suit com­ing in handy only over his fi­nal 10 holes Fri­day.

The only thing he couldn’t do was shake Hen­rik Sten­son.

Mick­el­son did his part in wind and rain that was com­ing and go­ing all day. He fol­lowed his record­ty­ing 63 with four more birdies in a round of 2-un­der 69, and he stretched his lead to as many as five shots un­til mak­ing his first bo­gey of the Bri­tish Open on his 30th hole.

Sten­son picked up three quick birdies be­fore the rain showed up, and man­aged a few more dur­ing lulls in the weather. He had a 65, his best ever in the Bri­tish Open, and goes into the week­end just one shot be­hind.

“I was five back of Phil from yes­ter­day, so of course I was hop­ing to gain a lit­tle,” Sten­son said. “And

the way it turned out, I gained quite a lot. It’s still early in the tour­na­ment, though. We’re only half­way through. But so far, so good. I’m happy with the way I played the course. It’s not easy out there.”

Mick­el­son was one of eight play­ers who have shot 63 in the open­ing round of a ma­jor, and he be­came only the third of them to fol­low that with an­other round un­der par. He made it look easy, es­pe­cially with an ap­proach from a per­fect an­gle to 3 feet on No. 7, and a wedge that spun back to­ward the hole on the par-3 eighth and stopped the size of a few real postage stamps from go­ing in for an ace.

“I thought it was a good round to back up the low round yes­ter­day,” Mick­el­son said. “I played kind of stress-free golf again. I made one or two bad swings that led to bo­geys. But for the most part, kept the ball in play.”

He was at 10-un­der 132, one bet­ter than the 36-hole score of Dar­ren Clarke in 1997 and Bobby Clam­pett in 1982 at Royal Troon.

The na­ture of links golf, and this cham­pi­onship, is get­ting the good side of the tee times. Mick­el­son was soaked when he walked off the course, though he still was on the good end of the draw.

The top 14 on the leader­board all played Fri­day morn­ing.

Of the 20 play­ers who broke par, all but three of them went off in the morn­ing and had at least a stretch of de­cent weather.

For­mer PGA cham­pion Kee­gan Bradley and Soren Kjeld­sen of Den­mark both shot 68 and were at 7-un­der 135, three shots off the lead.

De­fend­ing cham­pion Zach John­son bo­geyed the 18th hole for the sec­ond straight day and shot 70. He was five shots be­hind. Ser­gio Gar­cia (70) and Charl Schwartzel (66) were in the group that was six shots be­hind.

Jor­dan Spi­eth? He was lucky to still be play­ing.

Spi­eth bat­tled through the worst of the el­e­ments to play the fi­nal six holes in even par for a 75 to fin­ish at 4-over 146. Two hours be­fore he fin­ished, that looked as if it would earn him a trip back to Texas. In­stead, he made the cut on the num­ber.

“It’s tough when we all re­al­ize be­fore we go out that you’re kind of what would be the bad end of the draw be­fore you even play your sec­ond round,” Spi­eth said.

The good news for Spi­eth? At least it didn’t mat­ter for him. He said he might have felt dif­fer­ent if he were 3 or 4 un­der.

“But at 4 over par, my game is not ma­jor cham­pi­onship-win­ning cal­i­bre those first two rounds,” he said. “It just made it pretty in­ter­est­ing and ac­tu­ally some­what ner­vous on the last five, six holes be­cause I’d re­ally like to play the week­end.”

Rory McIl­roy got within five shots of the lead un­til the weather and a few bad shots gob­bled him up, and the four-time ma­jor cham­pion dropped four shots in five holes. He had to set­tle for an even-par 71 and was eight shots be­hind, along with U.S. Open cham­pion Dustin John­son (69).

Ja­son Day, the world’s No. 1 player, had a 70 and was among three play­ers who broke par in the af­ter­noon.

“I felt like I shot a ca­reer-low round out there to­day with just how tough the con­di­tions were,” Day said.

Mick­el­son made his first bo­gey when he pulled an iron off No. 12 tee into the rough, miss­ing a gorse bush by about two paces. He dropped an­other shot on the 15th when he pulled his drive into the rough and couldn’t reach the green. Those were the mis­takes, off­set by a 25-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole when he played his tee shot off the back side of a bunker and let it feed to­ward the hole.

He looked like a links spe­cial­ist the way he used the ground. Then again, his name is on the sil­ver claret jug for a rea­son.

And he wouldn’t mind see­ing it there again.

“I don’t feel the pres­sure like prob­a­bly a lot of play­ers do to try to win the claret jug be­cause I’ve al­ready won it,” he said. “The de­sire to cap­ture that claret jug puts a lot of pres­sure on. The fact I’ve done it re­lieves some of that. I would love to add to it, but hav­ing al­ready done that was big.”

BEN CURTIS, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Rory McIl­roy of North­ern Ire­land looks over a putt on the 11th green Fri­day as a pas­sen­ger train passes Royal Troon Golf Club in Troon, Scotland.

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