Brian Viner: Masterly Mickelson shows just why the fortysomethings matter

Phil Mickelson's long-time caddie played a strong supporting role yesterday. 'Give yourself good thoughts, a good tempo,' he urged his boss

The lumpy, bumpy links of Royal St George's resemble the manicured slopes of the Augusta National in scarcely any way at all, but for a couple of hours yesterday afternoon they reverberated to a sound that the patrons of Augusta know only too well, the sound of a Phil Mickelson charge.

olling in putt after left-handed putt, buoyed by tumultuous roars punctuated by so many cries of "c'mon Phil" that you could have shut your eyes and imagined yourself in deepest Georgia, Mickelson reached the turn in 30 strokes. It might easily have been 28. On the eighth he lipped out, and on the ninth narrowly miscalculated from no more than eight feet. A split-second later, even before he had finished ruefully shaking his head, another tumult arrived on the wind; Darren Clarke had eagled the seventh to restore his two-shot lead and Mickelson, who had fleetingly shared the top of the leaderboard, had it all to do again. Almost inevitably, he then birdied the 10th. When he is in that kind of form and mood, the Californian has the forward momentum of a three-ton truck. Unfortunately for him, there was a four-ton truck in his slipstream.

This is not a comment on the girths of Clarke, Mickelson and, repeatedly threatening to join them in the battle of the fortysomethings, Thomas Bjorn. Nevertheless, when those men trample something underfoot it stays trampled on, and yesterday it was the notion embodied by the likes of Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler that golf is a game for svelte young things. Maybe the old boys were inspired by playing in a place called Sandwich.

Wherever it is played, however, the Open Championship has a nasty habit of restoring reality to a scorecard that is beginning to read like a fairy tale, especially when a mighty wind brings occasional bursts of torrential rain. Moreover, Mickelson himself has a habit of imposing his own reality checks, and on the 11th he missed a tiddler for par that most of the under-10s sitting around the green would have fancied. Further bogeys followed at the 13th, 15th and 16th.

So outrageously unerring on the outward half, fabulous Phil had suddenly turned back into fallible Phil. He was like Samson after a short back and sides, taking eight more shots coming home than he had going out, including an approach on the 18th that would have besmirched the end of a midweek medal, let alone an Open. In truth, that was more typical of his performances in the 17 Opens he has contested. Until yesterday, the four-times major champion had only registered a single top-10 finish, at Royal Troon in 2004.

He will not take home too much delight in his front-nine card yesterday, yet it represented one of the great bursts of Open scoring. Only 12 men have scored lower than 30 over nine holes of this venerable championship, and none of them at Royal St George's. For the record, the Englishman Denis Durnian's 28 over the front half at Royal Birkdale, in the second round in 1983, remains the lowest nine holes in Open history.

The winner that year was Tom Watson, to whom Mickelson paid tribute here on Saturday evening, following the 61-year-old's remarkable 72 in the worst of the wind and rain. "You know, if we had weather like we had this morning the entire tournament, I don't know who's going to beat him," he said. "He was behind me the first couple of days and I'd watch his approach shots because he just knows how to do it here."

For two memorable hours yesterday, clubbed and practically coached by his long-time caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay, Mickelson was the one dishing out the links lessons. "Give yourself good thoughts, a good tempo," said Bones on the elevated tee of the 564-yard par-five seventh, which Mickelson, albeit with the help of a ferocious downwind, reduced to a drive, a wedge, and a 50-ft putt. "Picture it in your head," advised Bones, as Mickelson stood over his second shot.

At that moment, he might also have been picturing a Claret Jug. That, however, was destined for another fortysomething, a little older, somewhat broader and considerably greyer, but yesterday impervious to the best that America could throw at him. Mickelson finished joint runner- up with Dustin Johnson, good enough to take away a cheque for £520,000, and afterwards stressed his delight for Clarke.

"He was one of the first people that called us, Amy and I, a couple of years ago [during Amy Mickelson's struggle with breast cancer, which had killed Clarke's wife, Heather]. He's been through this and couldn't have been a better person to talk to. We talked for a few hours a couple of times. He's a tremendous person and I couldn't be happier for him. It was fun to try to make a run at him."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
News
Ireland will not find out whether gay couples have won the right to marry until Saturday afternoon
news
News
Kim Jong-un's brother Kim Jong-chol
news
News
Manchester city skyline as seen from Oldham above the streets of terraced houses in North West England on 7 April 2015.
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?