Friday 20 October 2017

Mickelson off to Muirfield on crest of wave after first links win

Phil Mickelson after his victory yesterday
Phil Mickelson after his victory yesterday

William S Callahan

PHIL MICKELSON thrust himself right into the frame for this week's British Open at Muirfield by clinching his first career win on a traditional seaside links at Castle Stuart.

Mickelson defeated South African Brandon Grace with a swashbuckling birdie on the first hole of sudden death to land the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open title and his 50th victory worldwide.

Gareth Maybin also received a super boost to his confidence on the links as he looks forward to his British Open debut this week.

A closing 71 by the Ballyclare man (32) clinched a share of fifth place on 14-under, three behind Mickelson and Grace, and a €124,286 cheque which lifted him to 71st in the Race to Dubai

Yet Mickelson was the man of the moment on the Moray Firth as he brilliantly erased memories of his sudden-death defeat against Gregory Havret of France in the 2007 Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.

The delighted Californian kissed wife Amy and embraced their three children amid tumultuous scenes in the evening gloom but the significance of this victory at Castle Stuart was not lost on the delighted left-hander afterwards.

Asked if he'd ever been as confident heading into the British Open, Mickelson replied "no", this emphatic, monosyllabic response making clear his ambition to claim a fifth Major title next Sunday and complete the third leg of a career Grand Slam.

Mickelson is capable of winning back to back on Tour and in the Major championship arena as he proved by romping home at the 2006 US Masters seven days after his victory in the Bell South Classic.

Though he's had just two top-10 finishes in 19 British Open appearances, Mickelson's third place at Royal Troon in 2004 and runner-up berth behind Darren Clarke at Sandwich in 2011 bore rich promise.

His efforts yesterday were far from perfect. After opening his final round with an ugly double-bogey, Mickelson splendidly clawed his way back to the brink of victory before three-putting from inside 20 feet for an uncharacteristically cagey bogey six on 18 and a final-round 69 to match that of Grace.

Plainly furious after missing the three-foot par putt that would have sealed it, Mickelson went into the tie hole with all guns blazing.

Fortune favoured the brave as Mickelson's gutsy second shot cleared a bunker and came to rest in a hard pan lie 45 yards short of the green. From there, he hit a phenomenal chip which pitched a couple of feet to the right of the cup and scuttled back to within inches of it.

After laying up to wedge range, Grace faced an impossible 35-foot putt down a ridge for birdie.

Overnight leader Henrik Stenson of Sweden bogeyed three of the final six holes of his 73 yesterday to share third with Dane JB Hansen on 15-under.

Despite his roots in Co Antrim, Maybin came to prefer parkland golf during his years as a student and fledgling professional in the US, making his efforts over the weekend very timely as he looks forward to the thrill of a lifetime at Muirfield.

"I'm not the biggest fan of links golf," he confessed.

"I played a lot in America and like that style of golf but I guess this has changed my attitude a little. You need a lot of luck around a links course."

Maybin, who finished eighth in the French Open last week, has long been a solid player from tee to green but putted especially well in Scotland.

A closing 71 left Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley with a share of 24th place on eight-under (worth €34,050), one ahead of Shane Lowry (72, €27,051). Damien McGrane slipped back to 42nd after a 75 but still earned €19,110.

Irish Independent

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