The golfing gods conspire against Big Phil
To watch Phil Mickelson on the charge in the first round of The 145th Open at Royal Troon today was to witness a genius at play.
Put simply this was a man on a mission, a man who equalled a long-standing record for Major Championships, but who could not believe he hadn’t broken it.
When the 2013 Champion Golfer of the Year stood over a putt of around 18 feet at the final hole, he knew only too well that he needed the ball to drop for a round of 62 that would have set the scoring record for all four of the Major Championships.
As the ball tracked towards its target it looked in all the way before it hit the hole, danced around it, then lipped out. Mickelson’s look said it all. He put his hands to his head and stared in disbelief.
“I want to shed a tear right now, that putt on 18 was an opportunity to do something historical.”
He may have equalled The Open scoring record, and set a new course record at Royal Troon, but he had been denied the chance to make history. And it hurt.
“I want to shed a tear right now,” Mickelson 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 adrenalin that I had just shot 62. And then I had the heartbreak that I hadn't. That stings.”
Asked how to explain the 28 rounds of 63 in Major Championships, Mickelson characteristically deflected his disappointment with a touch of humour. “Well, it was obvious right there,” he said. “There's a curse. If there wasn't a curse that ball would have been in and I would have had that 62.”
So does he believe in the golfing gods? “I didn't, but I do now!”
A low round looked on the cards from the moment the 46-year-old five-time Major winner birdied the 2nd hole. It settled his nerves, he said, and led to a sequence of scores for the first ten holes that ran: par, birdie, par, birdie, par, birdie, par, birdie, par, birdie.
It was Mickelson’s good fortune that the wind, which proved testing on the inward half in the morning, died down. He recognised that it was time to make hay while the sun shone and that is exactly what he did. His outward half of 32 was bettered by an inward one of 31. His round was made up of eight birdies and ten pars.
“The only time I played aggressively was at the 16th,” he said. “I didn’t take on a lot of trouble and got hot with the putter. In these conditions, I felt I could take advantage on the back nine.”
One nice touch was the encouragement he received from Ernie Els, his playing partner, after the approach shot to the 18th.
“We were walking up the fairway and he said, ‘You know this is for 62?’ I said, ‘I know. Why do you think I hung onto the drive?’ So he came over and said he was going to putt first. So he was fully aware.
“We were walking up the fairway and he said, ‘You know this is for 62?’ I said, ‘I know. Why do you think I hung onto the drive?’”
“We've shared our careers together. We've competed against each other. We've pulled for each other. We've had a lot of moments that we've shared together, and that was another one that was really fun.”
Els was equally disappointed. “The way he played out there today, it’s amazing he has won only one Open Championship,” he lamented. “He was in total control of the ball. It’s just a pity (he didn’t get a 62). I don’t know how that putt didn’t go in on 18. That would have been something.”