Stress-free golf is the way forward for Mickelson
PHIL MICKELSON has always been known for his laid-back style and it is exactly that approach that is holding him in good stead at this week’s British Open.
“Don’t fight the course, don’t fight the conditions,” he said yesterday, after his second round. “It’s stress-free golf.”
It seems to be working. Mickelson led the British Open at Royal Troon yesterday, at 10-under, after coming agonisingly close to scoring the firstever 62 in a major championship on Thursday.
Friday’s round was not as spectacular but he steadily gained ground, with birdies on the fourth, seventh and eighth holes. A dropped shot on the 12th was quickly recovered on the 14th. He dropped another on the 15th, but held on with pars at the 16th, 17th and 18th.
Alongside his 2013 victory in the British Open at Muirfield, the scores are something of a vindication. For the better part of 20 years, Mickelson’s record at the Open – and on links courses in general – ranged from disappointing to dismal.
From 2005 through 2010, the period during which he said he played his best golf, he finished the Open in 60th place, in 22nd place, missed a cut, advanced to 19th place and then fell back to a tie for 48th.
He now understands why he struggled.
“A lot of it was fighting the air, putting a lot of spin on the ball, hitting it hard, putting it in the air,” he said. “I stopped fighting and put it on the ground ... I stopped fighting the course.”
He did not seem to be too stressed yesterday. He has always smiled a lot and nodded to fans and slapped palms with kids lining the ropes as he walked between holes. Leading the Open did not change that.
After dropping the shot on the 12th and parring the 13th, he followed his playing partners, Lee Westwood and Ernie Els, down the short path to the 14th tee. A line of young boys were holding their hands across the rope in anticipation.
Westwood waved them away. Els ignored them. Mickelson must have had the dropped shot on his mind. He was also tugging on the pair of gloves he was wearing in the rain.
But he grinned and swerved towards the kids and bent down to bump their hands with his elbow. That group of kids loved it, and they probably went home confirmed fans of Phil Mickelson.
Maybe Mickelson also draws something from that kind of interaction. The 14th is a par-three, and he parked his ball on the green and drained the putt to retrieve the shot he had dropped on the 12th. It gave him a little cushion coming in.
If he holds onto his lead and wins the 2016 Open, Mickelson will be 46 years and 31 days old when he lifts the Claret Jug. That will make him the oldest winner of the Open since Old Tom Morris took the title in 1867, when he was 46 years and 102 days old.
“I don’t feel any pressure to win the Claret Jug because I’ve already... won it. I would love to add to it,” said the American.
“The other ... fact is, from 10 years ago when I was playing my best golf, I’m 25 pounds lighter, I’m in better shape, I’m physically stronger and feel better ... and I’m starting to hit shots the way I did 10 years ago.”
The weather deteriorated in the afternoon and none of the players in the second half of the draw were able to mount a charge.
Stenson’s 6-under 65 was the best round of the day and he was delighted to reel in Mickelson after the American had begun the day five shots ahead of the Swede.
“I was hoping to gain a little and the way it turned out I gained quite a lot,” said World No 6 Stenson after firing seven birdies.
“I’m happy with the way I played of course. It’s not easy out there. It’s a great result.”
The so-called “Big Four” of world golf were again left trailing in the wake of the leaders.
World No 2 Dustin Johnson (69) and fourth-ranked Rory McIlroy (71) were eight behind Mickelson. No 1 Jason Day (70) was 11 adrift while thirdranked Jordan Spieth (75) was four-over.
There was a sombre mood at the start of the day with the French tricolour flying at halfmast by the 18th green as the Open paid tribute to the victims of the Bastille Day attack in Nice on Thursday evening.
French golfer Clement Sordet, who teed off in the first three-ball, had the words “pray for Nice” emblazoned on his cap which also carried a black ribbon.
“I’m really proud to be French and I think we all need to support each other. I just say my prayers,” added Sordet.
Stenson, Westwood and four-times major winner Els were among several other players wearing black ribbons on their headgear. – Reuters
SWINGING IN THE RAIN: Phil Mickelson continued to dominate in trying conditions at Royal Troon yesterday.