Tuesday 25 October 2016

Record breaker Phil Mickelson pinpoints exactly why he is on top of his game

Phil Casey

Published 15/07/2016 | 18:15

Phil Mickelson stands on the 18th green during the second round at Royal Troon
Phil Mickelson stands on the 18th green during the second round at Royal Troon

Less than 24 hours after being cruelly denied a place in the record books, former champion Phil Mickelson did make history to set the clubhouse target in the Open Championship.

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Mickelson added a second round of 69 to his opening 63 for a 10-under-par halfway total of 132, one shot lower than the previous best at Royal Troon set by American Bobby Clampett in 1982 and equalled by Darren Clarke in 1997.

However, that was only good enough for a one-shot lead over Sweden's Henrik Stenson, who carded seven birdies and one bogey in a superb 65 to finish nine under par.

"I thought it was a good solid round," Mickelson said.

"You always feel that you could be a little better but when I made a few mistakes I didn't make big mistakes."

Mickelson has not won a tournament since lifting the Claret Jug at Muirfield in 2013, but feels he is more than capable of becoming the fourth oldest major champion in history on Sunday.

Rory McIlroy during day two of The Open Championship 2016 at Royal Troon
Rory McIlroy during day two of The Open Championship 2016 at Royal Troon

"We're only halfway done with the tournament so it's too far off to start thinking like that, but certainly there is nothing more that I would love to add another Claret Jug," the 46-year-old said.

"I think there is a lot of pressure off me given the fact that I've already got one.

"The other thing is that 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 than I was. I feel better and now that my swing is back on plane, I'm starting to hit some shots like I did 10 years ago and starting to play some of my best golf again.

"So I don't see why there's any reason why I can't continue that, not just this week, but for years. That's kind of what the game plan is."

Mickelson had come agonisingly close to making history on day one, his birdie putt on the 18th to record the first 62 in any major championship catching the edge of the cup and staying out.

The resulting 63 was the 28th such score in majors and the first in the Open since Rory McIlroy's opening round at St Andrews in 2010, which the Northern Irishman famously followed with an 80 in winds gusting up to 40 miles per hour which forced play to be suspended.

However, Mickelson was never in danger of suffering such a fate as a testing early breeze - in the opposite direction than on Thursday - swiftly died and allowed him to extend his overnight lead to five shots with birdies on the fourth, seventh and eighth, the latter coming after his tee shot on the 'Postage Stamp' span back to within inches of the hole.

"This was really a salty little shot," explained Mickelson, who wore a black all-weather glove on each hand to combat the intermittent downpours.

"I had a sand wedge and drove it back there to try and skid it back to the hole and you can see the delayed juice kick in."

Wayward drives on the 12th and 15th led to Mickelson's first dropped shots of the championship and allowed Stenson to close to within a shot, with Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen two strokes further back.

''It was a great day," Kjeldsen said after a flawless 68.

"I got into a nice rhythm and when the bad weather came I was already in a nice rhythm. From then on I just sort of held on. These conditions are what I grew up in, so I'm certainly used to playing in bad weather. You don't stay inside because you would miss too many days.

''I like playing this kind of golf, I like the battling mentality that you need to play. I do thrive in this. I always think about the Open like this - that you want to get all sorts of conditions. You want different wind directions, you want sun, you want rain."

Stenson finished second to Mickelson at Muirfield and, after turning 40 in April, admits time is running out in his bid to become the first male Swedish player to win a major.

"I haven't been in contention for the last six majors and it was a big, big goal of mine to try and be up there and give myself a chance. So far, so good," Stenson said.

"I just wanted to turn things around because I'm not going to play these tournaments forever and ever. I don't have another 50 goes at them. It might be a dozen or 15 in total. So I better start putting myself in position and giving myself chances if I want to make it happen.

"I'd say there's been two or three majors where I've been right up there. Muirfield was one of them. I was right there and then Phil had a great finish and won the tournament, very deserving.

"Then there's been a couple of PGA's where I've been up there. I had a good chance in '14 and the year before I ended up in a divot on the 15th hole in the final round and took a five instead of potentially a three on that short par-four there and things could have looked differently as well.

"But you get some good breaks and some bad breaks. If I keep putting myself in position and knocking on the door, I hope I get a couple of good breaks at the right times."

Mickelson's place at the top of the leaderboard looked secure as blustery winds made scoring conditions difficult for the later starters, but world number four Rory McIlroy may have had other ideas.

McIlroy started his round eight shots off the pace, but birdies on the fourth, sixth and seventh took the 2014 winner to five under par and into a share of fifth place with defending champion Zach Johnson, who had completed a 70 earlier.

World number one Jason Day had also carded four birdies in five holes to reach one under, but Jordan Spieth was a shot outside the projected cut on three over after needing two shots to escape a bunker on the eighth.

McIlroy's impressive effort was stalled by missing short putts for par on the ninth and 10th, although he at least found the fairway on the 11th while playing partners Bubba Watson and Hideki Matsuyama drove out of bounds onto the adjacent railway line.

Both players slipped to four over par as a result, but the cut was on the verge of moving out to three over as conditions remained testing.

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