Phil Mickelson just two off leader John Parry in Scottish Open at Castle Stuart
Shane Lowry best of the Irish after fine 66
Ireland’s Shane Lowry driving on the seventh at Castle Stuart. Photograph: Getty Images
It may be a general assumption that Phil Mickelson’s latest Scottish Open appearance is with a bigger stage, at Muirfield, in mind but the man himself has bristled at the suggestion he is not chasing victory at Castle Stuart.
As others spend time in East Lothian, preparing for next week’s Open Championship, Mickelson is the most high-profile name in the Scottish Open field. In going against a growing trend Mickelson has a preference to play competitively the week before a Major if at all possible. On a benign and therefore low-scoring morning he signed for the 66 which leaves him within touching distance of the lead, the Englishman John Parry having set the pace with an eight-under-par 64.
When pressed on whether Open fine-tuning, rather than victory, was on his mind Mickelson offered a firm response. “I think the best way to get ready for next week is to get into contention and to feel that nervousness, those butterflies, and try to win,” he said. “When I won the Masters in 2006 I won the week before by 13 shots in Atlanta. I thought that there couldn’t have been a better way to get ready.
“So, absolutely; if you can play well, get into contention and hopefully win, then that’s the best preparation possible. The reason I think this is a perfect set-up is that it gives us a chance to hit all the shots we will play next week. You can only handle so much punishment the week of the Open where the rough is so thick and the penalty for a miss is so great, so it’s nice to have a week where you don’t get punished and you are still hitting the same shots.”
Mickelson had dropped a shot on his opening hole of the day, the 10th, and did likewise at the 17th but an eagle and six birdies more than offset that damage. Mickelson is seeking his 50th win as a professional and his second of 2013.
Mickelson’s score was matched by Shane Lowry, with the Irishman thereafter accentuating the value of the Scottish Open. Graeme McDowell had been forced to apologise to tournament organisers after claiming this event has “lost its prestige and identity” when at the recent Irish Open.
Lowry said: “There is no reason why you wouldn’t play here. You get a bit of golf on links turf, which is nice. I know Muirfield is quite tight off the tee and this isn’t but it’s links golf at the end of the day.”
Parry returned to the European Tour this season only after progressing through the qualifying school. The 26-year-old from Harrogate, who lasted 72 holes in the US Open at Merion, did not drop a single first-round stroke yesterday.
Next best of the Irish on 67 was Damien McGrane and Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley. Pádraig Harrington will be disappointed with his 70.