Phil Mickelson overcame the variables of golf that are an intrinsic part of playing on hard and fast-running links courses to win the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart on Sunday.
After three days of balmy sunshine on the southern bank of the Moray Firth a cold wind, gusting at up to 30mph, resulted in golf balls flying all over the place and others bouncing even further off line.
And, given that most of Scotland has enjoyed a mini heatwave for the past three weeks, there is nothing to suggest that the same elements will not prove just as influential when the Open Championship gets under way further south at Muirfield on Thursday.
Furthermore, if some of the crazy-looking scorecards handed over last night are repeated next weekend, punters looking to find the man who will lift the Claret Jug might do better to use a pin rather than any form lines to pick their selections.
There was a very mixed bunch of candidates looking to lift the Scottish Open’s £500,000 winner’s cheque at the start of the fourth round.
Sweden’s Henrik Stenson led by two shots, having shown no form of any note since undergoing serious knee surgery two years ago. Chasing him was America’s four-time major-winner Phil Mickelson who, searching for his first victory in Europe in 20 years, had looked ominous ahead of the Open after carding a 66 on Saturday.
But also in the hunt were the Danish Challenge Tour graduate J B Hansen, who was making a complete mockery of his record of missing 14 out of 17 cuts in this, his rookie main tour season, and the Yorkshireman John Parry, who needed to win the European Tour Q-School last year to get his card.
The course proved to be the great leveller. Mickelson’s opening drive was only marginally off line but, after finding rough, he started his fourth round with a double bogey while Parry dropped a shot too. However, it was the 22-year-old Hansen who raised most eyebrows as bad bounces at the second took his first ball into water and his second into a bush on his way to a quadruple bogey.
Although Mickelson hit back with a run of three straight birdies, Hansen ran up seven birdies in his next eight holes with a red-hot putter to lead outright briefly. In the background Stenson, Parry and South Africa’s Brandon Grace played steady golf to stay in contention.
Such was the mixture of bad luck, bad play and brilliance that the six players in the last three groups out on the course managed 29 birdies and 14 bogeys between them while moving the leader’s score – from 16 under par overnight – by just one shot to 17 under.
The unpredictable nature of the conditions ruled to the last. Needing only to sink a five-foot par putt to win, Mickelson missed and was forced into a play-off with Grace, who also finished on 17 under.
But playing the par-five 18th again after Grace had encountered trouble in the rough, Mickelson produced one of his trademark chips to a foot from the flag to secure a birdie and become the first American-born player to win the Scottish Open since Tom Lehman in 1996.