Battling Mickelson still has time for some wizardry

Defending champion digs out a 70 that includes amazing par save on the 10th

Defending champion Phil Mickelson of the USA lines up a putt before securing an eagle on the fifth green at Hoylake. Photograph: Gerry Penny / EPA

Defending champion Phil Mickelson of the USA lines up a putt before securing an eagle on the fifth green at Hoylake. Photograph: Gerry Penny / EPA

Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 23:00

One hand still on the old Claret Jug, but with an ever-loosening grip, Phil Mickelson at least survived into the weekend.

And, yet, on this links that runs along the Dee estuary, even as he battled for every shot and strained every muscle to retain the silver trophy, there was further evidence of his captivating wizardry.

There are times he defies belief, as only Mickelson can. Yesterday his flash of audacity came on the par 5, 10th hole which measures 532 yards. His first tee shot was carved into the out-of-bounds and, suddenly, the red flags of warning were raised about an early trip homeward bound.

Undeterred, Mickelson reloaded and hit a provisional tee shot down the fairway. Once it was confirmed that his original ball was, indeed, lost in the fescues on the other side of the white stakes, the left-handed American got on with the job: he hit his two-iron approach shot from 213 yards in to six feet and rolled in the putt.

An “eagle” with his second ball, a par on the card! But what a par!

“A crazy par, wasn’t it?” asked Mickelson, his head nodding and his eyes dancing. Pure Phil, really.

Miracle par save

Mickelson, for all his wizardry, is also a battler. After opening with a 74 on Thursday, he responded with a 70 – featuring that miracle par save on the 10th – as he reached the midway stage of the championship on 144, level par. In his mind getting out of that over-par zone was critical.

This season has been a frustrating and oft-time dispiriting one for Mickelson, who has yet to win in 2014.

There have been times he has been forced to miss tournaments due to oblique soreness caused by his arthritic condition. He has not had a top-10 finish since finishing runner-up alongside Rory McIlroy – behind Pablo Larrazabal – in Abu Dhabi in January.

It is the first time since 2003 that he has arrived at a British Open without a win in the same season to his name.

But he has again proven that he possesses an inner strength, emphasised by his play of the 10th hole which kept his round from slipping away from him. In Thursday’s opening round he had put an approach shot to his 18th hole out of bounds. In effect, the questions had been asked of him time and time again.

Mickelson’s round was eventful beyond that remarkable par save on the 10th.

Earlier, on his fourth hole, a wild tee shot had struck a spectator on the head. There was, rather surprisingly, no call of “fore” to warn spectators.

‘You can’t hear’

Asked why, Mickelson responded: “You can’t hear it anyways. You can’t hear it 20 yards up the fairway, the wind is in your ear, it doesn’t make a bit of difference. You point and you try to get people aware, but you can’t hear that far up with the wind.”

It was a poor argument.

The difference between Thursday and yesterday was primarily his putting having made a slight adjustment to his set-up. “I just tired to extend more to the target. I felt like I was kind of quitting on it,” he said.

And even with a 12 shot deficit on McIlroy, Mickelson insisted there was all to play for.

Of his game, he said: “It’s really close, it’s really close to being good. I’m striking it so good. And if I putt the way I putted the last nine holes for the weekend (at the Scottish Open), I’m going to have a good chance.”

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