Stress-free golf is the way for­ward for Mick­el­son

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

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.

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