Why king of Castle will be hot for Open

Mickelson believes Scottish course offers perfect link to next week's major. By James Corrigan
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Anybody desperately going through the golfing formbooks an attempt to identify the man of Kent should, according to no less an expert than Phil Mickelson, divert their gaze 600 miles north these next four days. The left-hander believes next week's Open champion will be playing here in Inverness at the Scottish Open. Well, that's narrowed it down to 47.

Considering the world's top two are in attendance and, indeed, three more members of the world's top 10, the Californian is perhaps not fully deserving of the nickname "Mystic Mickelson". Yet the record shows that 12 months ago Louis Oosthuizen became the first winner of the Open who had played at the Scottish Open in eight years. Some might venture that Scotland never has been the best place to warm up.

But all that is about to change, claims Mickelson. The tournament has moved from the beautiful but wholly inappropriate environs of Loch Lomond to the links of Castle Stuart. At last the prep event provides a suitable vicinity in which to prepare. The Highlands will never be confused with Kent, but Castle Stuart is at least from the same species as Royal St George's. "I expect that the winner of the Open will be in this field," said Mickelson, who, thanks to the sponsors, has become a fixture at the Barclays Scottish Open. "I think it will be such an advantage to play in this event now."

Of course, the inference was picked up and Mickelson was at his sharpest to cover himself. "I must have thought that Rory was in the field here," he said. Yes, since his US Open victory, Master McIlroy has to be central to every golfing narrative. The 22-year-old was at Royal St George's yesterday and on Monday for his early reconnaissance. McIlroy doesn't like to play the week before a major. In racing parlance, "he goes well fresh".

Mickelson does believe more of the big names will soon put the Scottish Open on their schedules. Already, the dress rehearsal's full costume change has attracted the likes of the world No 1, Luke Donald (who has not played in the Scottish for four years), and Padraig Harrington (who has not played for 12 years). Meanwhile, there are eight Americans here, including the likes of world No 8 Matt Kuchar and recent US Tour winners Gary Woodland, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Palmer and Brendan Steele. "This is the strongest field this tournament has ever had and it will get stronger," said Mickelson. "It reminds me of when one of the tournaments in the States in Charlotte started about eight years ago. A lot of guys didn't go the first year. They waited to get the feedback. And it was so positive everybody started to play there. That's what's going to happen here."

Mickelson's confidence is based not only on the aptness of the test, but also on the quality of the arena. Castle Stuart opened only two years ago. But already Golf World, the leading American magazine, has called it "the best course built in the British Isles since the Second World War". Mickelson is not about to argue. "It's one of the best anywhere in the world," he exclaimed.

There can also be no doubt what a victory here would mean to Mickelson. It is a somewhat remarkable stat that a player of his calibre has never won in Britain. Will Castle Stuart help to address one of golf's stranger anomalies?

"I think it is going to have a big positive effect on my performance next week," said Mickelson, who spent Sunday and Monday at Royal St George's. "But it's a real challenge for me to overcome the obstacles. I've always played high through the air. To be able to play along the ground, keep the ball under control, drive it through the cross-winds... well, I've kind of embraced those challenges the last couple of years."