TROON, Scotland – Phil Mickelson has nearly everything going his way at this British Open. He has control of his shots and the flight of his ball in the wind and rain. He has the lowest 36-hole total at Royal Troon. He even caught a break with the weather, his black rain suit coming in handy only over his final 10 holes Friday.
The only thing he couldn’t do was shake Henrik Stenson.
Mickelson did his part in wind and rain that was coming and going all day. He followed his record-tying 63 with four more birdies in a round of 2-under 69, and he stretched his lead to as many as five shots until making his first bogey of the British Open on his 30th hole.
Stenson picked up three quick birdies before the rain showed up, and managed a few more during lulls in the weather. He had a 65, his best ever in the British Open, and goes into the weekend just one shot behind.
“I was five back of Phil from yesterday, so of course I was hoping to gain a little,” Stenson said. “And the way it turned out, I gained quite a lot. It’s still early in the tournament, though. We’re only halfway through. But so far, so good. I’m happy with the way I played the course. It’s not easy out there.”
Mickelson was one of eight players who have shot 63 in the opening round of a major, and he became only the third of them to follow that with another round under par. He made it look easy, especially with an approach from a perfect angle to 3 feet on No. 7, and a wedge that spun back toward the hole on the par-3 eighth and stopped the size of a few real postage stamps from going in for an ace.
“I thought it was a good round to back up the low round yesterday,” Mickelson said. “I played kind of stress-free golf again. I made one or two bad swings that led to bogeys. But for the most part, kept the ball in play.”
He was at 10-under 132, one better than the 36-hole score of Darren Clarke in 1997 and Bobby Clampett in 1982 at Royal Troon.
The nature of links golf, and this championship, is getting the good side of the tee times. Mickelson was soaked when he walked off the course, though he still was on the good end of the draw.
The top 14 on the leaderboard all played Friday morning.
Of the 20 players who broke par, all but four of them went off in the morning and at least had a stretch of decent weather.
Former PGA champion Keegan Bradley and Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark both shot 68 and were at 7-under 135, three shots off the lead. Defending champion Zach Johnson bogeyed the 18th hole for the second straight day and shot 70. He was five shots behind. Sergio Garcia (70) and Charl Schwartzel (66) were in the group that was six shots behind.
Jordan Spieth? He was lucky to still be playing.
Spieth battled through the worst of the elements to play the final six holes in even par for a 75 to finish at 4-over 146. Two hours before he finished, that looked as if it would earn him a trip back to Texas. Instead, he made the cut on the number.
“It’s tough when we all realize before we go out that you’re kind of what would be the bad end of the draw before you even play your second round,” Spieth said.
The good news for Spieth? At least it didn’t matter for him. He said he might have felt different if he were 3 or 4 under.
“But at 4-over par, my game is not major championship-winning caliber those first two rounds,” he said. “It just made it pretty interesting and actually somewhat nervous on the last five, six holes because I’d really like to play the weekend.”
Rory McIlroy got within five shots of the lead until the weather and a few bad shots gobbled him up, and the four-time major champion dropped four shots in five holes. He had to settle for an even-par 71 and was eight shots behind, along with U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson (69).
Jason Day, the world’s No. 1 player, had a 70 and was among three players who broke par in the afternoon.
“I felt like I shot a low-career round out there today with just how tough the conditions were,” Day said.
Mickelson’s made his first bogey when he pulled an iron off the tee into the rough, missing a gorse bush by about two paces. He dropped another shot on the 15th when he pulled his drive into the rough and couldn’t reach the green. Those were the mistakes, offset by a 25-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole when he played his tee shot off the back side of a bunker and let it feed toward the hole.
He looked like a links specialist the way he used the ground. Then again, his name is on the silver claret jug for a reason.
And he wouldn’t mind seeing it there again.
“I don’t feel the pressure like probably a lot of players do to try to win the claret jug because I’ve already won it,” he said. “The desire to capture that claret jug puts a lot of pressure on. The fact I’ve done it relieves some of that. I would love to add to it, but having already done that was big.”
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