Mickelson fired up to go one better in 'fair' Open test
American star heads straight to Birkdale as Cabrera Bello lands Scottish Open after playoff
While Henrik Stenson was claiming that he was "nowhere near 100 per cent" after his tie for 25th at the Scottish Open, and talking down his chances of successfully defending the Open, the man he beat in last year's classic Claret Jug duel was sounding ominously inspired.
This was the first time in 11 years that Phil Mickelson chose to skip Scotland, instead electing to arrive early in Southport. After a trip around Royal Birkdale's outward half on Saturday and the back nine yesterday, the left-hander was in an extremely positive mood about the course and his chances.
Mickelson has not won a tournament of any nature since the 2013 Open at Muirfield and recently split with his long-time caddy Jim 'Bones' Mackay. However, he should not be discounted at a links he has adored since making his Open debut here in 1991.
"I've always had an affinity for this course, always loved it and felt it was good course for me," he said.
"I'm excited to be back here as it's where I first believed I could win the Open. I was only 20 and knew that I was in for a real challenge, because I was not able to hit the ball low enough, with the small amount of spin necessary. It took me longer than I thought it would, but this was where the ambition took hold."
In glorious weather, Mickelson was impressed by the condition of the layout. High winds are forecast for the Open and the American believes the officials have taken that into account.
"It's set up extremely fair given the potential for the elements and so forth," Mickelson said. "Look at the fairway width and the rough, it progressively gets worse. Green size and speed is all right on. I think it's as good as it can possibly be, I think it's tremendous."
The 47-year-old was in his usual playful demeanour, spotting Jordan Spieth walking into the wrong section of the locker room and telling his young countryman: "This right here is for past champions."
Spieth helped make it a memorable opening practice day for the galleries, with the world's top for players on show.
Rory McIlroy, after his setback at Dundonald, his second missed cut in as many weeks, played 18 holes, while Dustin Johnson, the world No 1, and Hideki Matsuyama also prepped the links.
Victory in Dundonald yesterday went to Spain's Rafael Cabrera Bello, who claimed an overdue first win since 2012 by beating England's Callum Shinkwin in a play-off after a dramatic finish.
Shinkwin had looked set for his maiden European Tour title and the first prize of £898,000, only to fluff his chip to the 18th in regulation and then leave a putt to win the £5.4m event short from just six feet. The pair returned to the 18th for sudden death and Cabrera Bello, whose closing 64 had set a new course record at Dundonald Links, produced a stunning approach to the par five from 275 yards to set up a two-putt birdie.
Shinkwin's approach finished in an almost identical place as it had on the 72nd hole and after pitching over a bunker to ten feet, the 24-year-old again hit a tentative putt which came up short.
"Obviously I'm extremely happy," said Cabrera Bello, who qualified for the 2016 Ryder Cup without winning an event, but claimed two-and-a-half points from his three matches at Hazeltine.
"I've won before and I have been up there so many, many times and things have not really worked out for myself. I was starting to feel a little pressure every time I was up there contending. Today I truly believed that it could be my day."
Pádraig Harrington recovered from his nightmare 79 on Saturday to finish with a bogey-free 66 for a share of fourth place on eight-under, while Graeme McDowell (72) and Paul Dunne (74) failed to sparkle in the final round.
On the PGA Tour, Seamus Power enjoyed a strong weekend in the John Deere Classic, posting a closing 67 to finish in a tie for 26th on 11-under par, seven behind winner Bryson DeChambeau. (© Daily Telegraph, London)