The Open 2004

Open-minded Mickelson has the will to win

Blasting himself into contention was never much of a problem for the old Phil Mickelson. With all the precision timing of a Nasa space shuttle he would launch his major mission bang on cue, turbos blazing, the countdown ringing in his ears, orbit awaiting, next stop a destination that only a handful who populate Planet Golf will ever reach.

Blasting himself into contention was never much of a problem for the old Phil Mickelson. With all the precision timing of a Nasa space shuttle he would launch his major mission bang on cue, turbos blazing, the countdown ringing in his ears, orbit awaiting, next stop a destination that only a handful who populate Planet Golf will ever reach.

He would never quite get there, of course, the fires fizzling out just when the atmosphere got critical. Winning one of the four that really matter seemed an alien concept to Mickelson. But then came Augusta 2004 and everything changed.

The nearly man was no more; now we have the yearly man, who looks like he has another big one in him every time he tees it up. Victory at Georgia, runner-up at Shinnecock Hills in the US Open, Mickelson is now a major performer - perhaps the major performer - in every sense.

Royal Troon has been an extension of this formline, despite that pesky stat that whispers to anyone who will believe it that the 34-year-old from California has never finished better than a tie for 11th in his 11 Open Championships to date. For a shot-making craftsman who could comfortably wear "Innovation" as a middle name, that is a baffling detail indeed.

Especially when you witnessed the back nine of his 68 yesterday that owed everything to patience, nerve and guile, three words not associated with Mickelson before Augusta. But that green jacket has proved to be more like a bullet-proof vest, making him impervious to the tedious criticism that he just did not possess the balls necessary to win a major.

Well, if it's balls you want then Mickelson seems to have discovered a driving range's supply of the damned things. Being freed of the burden of expectation has unarguably lifted a huge weight from those chiselled shoulders. The smile is now as constant as the swing plane, the belief that, yes, he can favour caution and, no, he doesn't have to shoot at everything he sees is the defining difference in his game.

For instance, after an opening 73 here many would have thought that old Lefty would not have been up for the fight. But new Lefty came out firing. A day's-best five-under 66 on Friday put his name back into the picture. And yesterday the southpaw framed it with a round of three under to take him to six under overall and within two of Todd Hamilton's lead. It seems that it may take more than the squalls starting to whip up here last night to blow Mickelson off course.

While blustery yesterday, the higher winds had again swerved past the Ayrshire coast. The result was that birdies were the order of the day early on and Mickelson tucked in. Three behind the overnight leader, Skip Kendall, Mickelson got off to the flyer he craved by holing an eight-footer for birdie on the first.

Four under soon became five on the second as a chip to within two feet raised his name into the top 10 for the first time. Par followed par at the third, fourth, fifth and sixth, but Mickelson conjured a red figure again with a birdie on the par-four seventh before making pars at the eighth, ninth and 10th.

The latter in particular proved just why the vagaries of links should suit Mickelson's game. A tee-shot bounded off into rough and from there the ball, thrown on a gust, could only find a tricky spot near the deep stuff at the bottom of the slope to the right of the green.

No matter, a flop-chip was beautifully manoeuvred to within three feet; par saved, A similar thing happened on the 11th, with a similar outcome. On the 15th his powers of recovery were brought even more to the fore as he came off the verge of a path to make par.

He confessed he was fortunate to avoid going out of bounds there, having hit a spectator's leg. "Hey, you take what you can get," he said. "But it was a very lucky break, that's for sure. I thought it was gone." Another save on the 17th was capped by an extraordinary second on the last when he somehow found the green from the thick greenery. Mickelson has not dropped a shot here in 37 holes, which is some accomplishment on some course.

"I'm usually watching The Open leaders coming in on the television," he said. "So it's going to be fun to be in the final groups here. What's different this year? I don't know. None of the pars I have made have felt that difficult because I've been putting the ball in places where I know I can get up and down. I don't feel I have to hit the perfect shot." Once a perfectionist, now a pragmatist. That's bad news for everyone else here today.

Voices
voices
News
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
newsBumping fists rather than shaking hands could reduce the spread of infectious diseases, it is claimed
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
newsHad asteroid hit earlier or later in history, the creatures might have survived, say scientists
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
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

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried