Mickelson lips out for history in Troon tour de force
Phil Mickelson's super 63 on the opening day of the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon has thrown down the gauntlet to Rory McIlroy and Pádraig Harrington.
The two Irish former Open winners played early in the day, and after carding a two-under par 69, and a one-under 70 respectively, they hoped the afternoon groups would not set the bar too high.
But Mickelson, Champion Golfer of the Year in 2013, blistered the Troon links. He played majestically as he came ridiculously close to becoming the first player in history to score 62 in a Major championship.
A fraction of an inch was the margin between 'Lefty' and an early taste of glory as his putt on the last from 18 feet lipped out at the edge of the hole.
A groan of agony erupted from the galleries around the 18th green. It was quickly followed by thunderous applause for Mickelson's performance.
The 46-year-old from San Diego, California had stamped his authority on the championship and, at eight-under par, leads overnight by three shots from joint second-placed Patrick Reed and Martin Kaymer, but he rued not nailing the record.
"It was one of the best rounds I've ever played and I was able to take advantage of these conditions, and yet I want to shed a tear right now," he said.
"That putt on 18 was an opportunity to do something historical. I knew it, and with a foot to go I thought I had done it.
"I saw that ball rolling right in the centre. I went to go get it, I had that surge of adrenaline that I had just shot 62, and then I had the heartbreak that I didn't, and watched that ball lip out. It was, wow, that stings.
"It really stings to have a chance. It's such a rare opportunity to do something historic like that.
"I mean, if I had just hit a weak flail-off and never had a chance and left it short, so be it.
"But this ball was hunting right in the centre and didn't go. It was just heartbreaking," added Mickelson.
Out in 32, with four birdies; back in 31, also with four birdies, Mickelson made the game look easy, which it was not for so many of the 156 starters.
Just 75 were at par or better, and this on a day when conditions could hardly have been more conducive to low scoring.
Sun shone all day, the winds were moderate, and the front nine was there for the taking.
This, however, is the Open championship and it comes with significant pressure guaranteed.
McIlroy got bitten with a double-bogey six on the 473-yard par-four 13th hole, just when he was tipping along steadily at four-under for the championship.
"If I would've stepped on the first tee and someone would have given me a 69, I probably would have taken it, but if somebody had given me that score on the 10th, I probably wouldn't have. I knew today was a day where you had to make the most of the conditions because I don't think we're going to see the course like this for the rest of the week.
"I think the elements are going to be a bit of a challenge. But two-under par, to shoot something in the 60s, it's a solid start," said McIlroy.
The 2014 Claret Jug winner started slowly but once he found his rhythm, his class emerged, with four birdies on five holes from the fourth to the eighth inclusive.
Of those, his three on the seventh was sublime. McIlroy's drive arrowed through the air, landing on the apron of the green, having travelled almost 400 yards.
He pitched his second too strongly, leaving himself with a downhill 12-foot putt which he duly holed.
The setback at 13 was followed by bogey five at 14, but McIlroy rallied with a birdie on the 15th.
"I felt like the bogey on 14 was a result of the six on 13. I was trying to be a little bit too aggressive with the tee-shot. So, yeah, to play the 15th well was nice," he said.
Harrington played alongside Louis Oosthuizen who got a hole-in-one on the 14th. Ironically, on the 220-yard par-three 17th, the South African was in pole position for a birdie two on a hole where no player up to their arrival on the green had managed a two. But Harrington, from 51 feet, knocked in his putt for an impressive birdie.
Jamie Donaldson, the third member of their group, also slotted from 20 feet for a two - and then Oosthuizen missed from eight feet and had to take par.
Prior to that, Harrington had pitched beautifully to six feet to claim a birdie four on the par-five 16th, and was pleased with his back nine display.
"I came back in two-under par for last eight holes which was nice. The wind died down on the last few holes. I did the opposite on last few holes to what I did on the ones going out; I gave myself chances," he said.
Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke felt he could have scored better than his level-par 71, but given his European team responsibilities and recent poor form, this was an acceptable score.
Graeme McDowell finished on 75, (four over). Paul Dunne was on six-over par, and Shane Lowry carded a 77.
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