Why King of the Castle will be hot for the Open

Mickelson believes Scottish course offers perfect link to next week's major in Kent

Anybody desperately pouring through the golfing formbooks in the 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 at the Scottish Open. Well, that's narrowed it down to 47.

Click HERE to view graphic (150k jpg)

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".

Some professional golfers are just like that and there is nothing the sponsors can do to change them except dangle enough money to persuade the stay-aways to sacrifice their chance for the greenback. The chances of that with McIlroy are on the non-existent side of slim, although 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 continue to get stronger," said Mickelson, before going on to explain why more of his countrymen will make the trip across the pond a week earlier. "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 only opened two years ago and in terms of the historic links doesn't even command foetal status. 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 golf courses anywhere in the world," exclaimed the 41-year-old. "I think it enjoys that type of status and it's the creation of a modern-day architect, which I'm not usually a fan of. There are some great ones, like [Ben] Crenshaw and [Bill] Coore, and I think Gil Hanse is also one of the greats who recognises that golf is not about longer and is not about harder."

Instead Hanse, the American who with the developer Mark Parsinen transformed this startling piece of land overlooking the Moray Firth, places the emphasis on the "F" word. Not the one which rings around every 7,600-yard monster, but "fun". "Yeah, he recognises golf should be about fun, creativity, challenges, memorable shots," said Mickelson. "It doesn't have to beat you up all the time. Gil Hanse has it right and other architects should learn from him. It should almost be a prerequisite to play Castle Stuart before you're allowed to design golf courses nowadays." Mickelson's conviction is that small can be beautiful. At 7,050 yards and with a par of 72, the layout is a veritable pygmy compared to most other championship venues. Yet what it lacks in yardage it makes up for in options. "Longer and harder is not better; it's just longer and harder," he said. "Our modern architects have this feeling that equipment has changed the game and therefore they have to make every hole long and hard and totally unplayable for the average player. Unfortunately that's driven a lot of people away from the game. I think it's one of the leading reasons why participation has been down. I mean, a lot of these courses are unplayable for us. But everybody would enjoy their round here."

While the cynics might contend that Mickelson is bound to stress the positives, seeing as he is on the sponsors' bankroll, this is plainly a subject close to his heart. 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.

He was beaten in a play-off at the 2007 Scottish Open by France's Grégory Havret and the nearest he has come to winning the Open was at Troon in 2004 when finishing a stroke off the play-off contested by Todd Hamilton and Ernie Els. Indeed, that performance stands out on an Open record sheet which is otherwise appalling. In his 16 other appearances, the four-time major winner has not managed one top 10. 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. I feel if I can master them and win at this level on this style of golf course, I'll become a complete player."

The cast list out to stop Mickelson is ominous. Lee Westwood has the chance to usurp Donald as No 1 – even finishing fifth would be enough if Donald comes outside the top 25 – while an enthralling sub-plot will be to see whether Colin Montgomerie can extend his run of Opens to 22 years. To qualify for Sandwich, the 48-year-old must at least finish in the top five. Whichever way one looks at it, all roads lead to Sandwich. From the Highlands to Kent, the links are now there.

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
News
i100
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
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

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015