Phil Mickelson insists “nothing will ever beat” the Muirfield magic he produced to become Open champion in 2013.
Not even the 63 he signed for at Royal Troon yesterday to take the event’s 145th staging by the scruff of the neck.
It beat the American’s closing effort in East Lothian three years ago by three shots and also earned him a place in the record books.
Mickelson is the ninth player to sign for 63 in The Open and 23rd in golf’s four majors.
He’s now bidding to follow in the footsteps of Jack Nicklaus (1980 US Open) and Ray Floyd (1982 US PGA) to go on to claim a major title after opening with that score.
But it was a measure of what winning the Claret Jug for the first time and the way he did it, finishing with a real flourish at Muirfield, means to Mickelson that he said this effort was eclipsed by that 66.
“It was one of the best rounds that I’ve played,” he said after a flawless performance on a sun-kissed day in Ayrshire. “but nothing will match that final round at Muirfield.”
The five-time major winner was robbed in his bid to become the first player in major history to card a 62 when an 18-foot birdie putt spun out of the hole.
“I want to shed a tear right now,” he admitted. “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. That stings.”
It was the second time in his career that Mickelson had been denied by the golfing gods, having seen a 25-foot birdie putt for a 59 miss by a fraction in the 2013 Waste Management Open in Phoenix.
“This one’s going to stay with me for a while because of the historical element of the major championships,” he added. “There’s a lot of guys that have shot 63, but nobody has shot that 62.
“That would have been really something special. I’m just not going to have opportunities like that to do that. So to have that putt lip out, that’s going to sting for a while.”
A sparkling first-day display that matched the weather conditions earned Mickelson a three-shot lead over compatriot Patrick Reed and Germany’s Martin Kaymer with defending champion Zach Johnson in a huge group sitting a shot further back.
After opening with a 69, 2015 winner Rory McIlroy refused to back down over his controversial comments about golf in the Olympics, insisting he “may as well be true to myself” after “seven years of trying to give the PC answer”.
The four-time major winner, who has opted out of the Games in Rio due to health concerns, said earlier in the week that he probably wouldn’t be watching the golf tournament and was more likely to tune into “events that matter like track and field, swimming and diving”.
He also denied that his decision to miss the sport’s return to the Olympics after a gap of 112 years was letting the game down, saying he got into golf to “win championships not to grow the game.”
Speaking after his round in Ayrshire, McIlroy took the chance to point out that he does, in fact, support grassroots golf in a “positive way” on both sides of the Atlantic.
However, he waded in deeper over the Olympics as IOC officials come to terms with 20 male golfers, including the game’s four top-ranked players, withdrawing from next month’s sporting spectable due to concerns over the Zika virus.
“I’ve thought about Olympics and golf for the last seven years and I decided it was time to stop dancing around the issue and actually tell everyone what I thought,” said the 27-year-old.
“Some people don’t like it, I get that; it’s my opinion and my opinion may be wrong, I may be wrong in a lot of people’s minds. But, to me, it’s just how I feel. I don’t think anyone can blame me for being too honest. But, at the same time, it was seven years of trying to give the PC answer and finally I just cracked.
“I still don’t think I’m the only one. I think my opinion is shared by a few people, but some people may think it’s wrong and that’s fine. But I’ve spent seven years trying to please everyone, and I figured out that I can’t really do that, so I may as well be true to myself.”
He added: “I have no regrets about where I stand on certain things, but I think I would have elaborated a little bit on the grow-the-game comment,” he added when asked if he’d been happy with the things he said on Tuesday. “I feel like I do my bit to grow the game. It’s not as if I’m uninterested.
“I don’t want to force golf on anyone. But I feel like golf is a great vehicle to instill values in kids. I’m an ambassador for the PGA Junior League, I do some stuff for the First Tee in the States, and I feel like I’ve used my success in golf in a very positive way in the community.
“The next generation can play golf if they want or they don’t. It won’t make me any less happy. But, if I can somehow make a positive change in the world by what I do on the golf course, whether that means raise money for charity or give kids more of a chance in life growing up, then great.”