Phil Mickelson sitting pretty at half-way stage of Open
Three years after finishing first and second in the same event at Muirfield, Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson are out in front again in The Open.
Overnight leader Mickelson backed his sizzling first-day 63 with a solid 69 in testing conditions at Royal Troon to sit on 10-under-par at the halfway stage.
That set a new 36-hole record at the Ayrshire course, beating both American Bobby Clampett (1982) and Darren Clarke (1997) by a shot.
Three ahead after the opening round, 2013 winner Mickelson now leads by just one from Stenson after the Swede stormed into contention with a best-of-the day 65.
Another Scandinavian player, Soren Kjeldsen, sits third on seven-under along with American Keegan Bradley after they signed for matching 68s.
“I thought it was a good round to back up the low round yesterday,” said Mickelson, a five-time major winner, of his effort. “I made one or two bad swings that led to bogeys. But, for the most part, I kept the ball in play and played kind of stress-free golf.”
He almost matched American legend Gene Sarazen, who achieved the feat in the 1973 event, by making a hole-in-one at the iconic Postage Stamp as he birdied it for the second day in a row.
“I just love that hole and I’m fortunate to have capitalised on it,” said Mickelson. “It’s a hole you’ve got to be very cautious on, and as the pin gets further back, I’ll be more cautious.
“In conditions that were right, I kind of saw the shot the last two days and I got a little bit more aggressive to that pin than is probably smart, but it’s paid off.”
He’s hoping the Claret Jug success from three years ago can give him the edge over players like Stenson and Kjeldsen, who are both proven winners but not in majors.
“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, and that takes a lot of pressure off me,” insisted Mickelson.
“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.”
Muirfield was the closest Stenson has come so far to being the first Swede to win a men’s major and is in the mood to go one better.
He won the BMW International Open in Germany last month before warming up alongside Mickelson in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart last week.
“I’ve had a couple of chances, and I’m sure if things would have gone my way, I could have had one or two of these, but not to this date,” said the Ryder Cup star.
“In the the 2013 US PGA, the one that Jason Dufner won, for example, I ended up in a divot on the 15th hole in the final round and took a 5 instead of potentially a 3 on a short par 4.
“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.”
Kjeldsen, a 41-year-old who is based in Ascot, recorded the first of his four European Tour triumphs on Scottish soil – in the 2003 Johnnie Walkere Championship at Gleneagles.
He returned to winning ways after a quiet spell in the Irish Open at Royal County Down last year and is back in the major mix for a second time this year, having finished seventh behind Danny Willett in The Masters.
As for Bradley, he looks to be back in the form that saw him win the 2011 US PGA Championship.