Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Golf

Phil Mickelson keeps lead at British Open

TROON, Scotland — Phil Mickelson had nearly everything going his way in the first two rounds of the British Open.

He had control of his shots and the flight of his ball in the wind and rain. He had the lowest 36-hole total at Royal Troon. He even caught a break with the weather, his black rain suit coming in handy only over his final 10 holes Friday.

The only thing he couldn't do was shake Henrik Stenson.

Mickelson did his part in wind and rain that was coming and going all during the second round. He followed his record-tying 63 of the first round with four more birdies in a round of 2-under 69, and he stretched his lead to as many as five shots until making his first bogey of the British Open on his 30th hole.

He was at 10-under 132, one better than the previous record 36-hole score at Royal Troon, held by Darren Clarke (1997) and Bobby Clampett (1982). In his 21 British Opens, this is the first time Mickelson started with two rounds in the 60s, and he had his lowest 36-hole British Open total. He also matched his best 36-hole total in a major (the others were at the 2001 and 2005 PGA Championships).

"I thought it was a good round to back up the low round (Thursday)," Mickelson said. "I played kind of stress-free golf again. I made one or two bad swings that led to bogeys. But for the most part, kept the ball in play."

He was one shot ahead of Stenson, who picked up three quick birdies before the rain showed up, and he got a few more during lulls in the weather. He shot 65, his best score in the British Open and tied for his lowest career round at a major (first round at last year's U.S. Open at Chambers Bay).

"I was five back of Phil from (Thursday), so of course I was hoping to gain a little," Stenson said. "And the way it turned out, I gained quite a lot. It's still early in the tournament, though. We're only halfway through. But so far, so good. I'm happy with the way I played the course. It's not easy out there."

The nature of links golf, and this championship, is getting the good side of the tee times. For those who teed off Friday morning, the stormy weather hung off in the distance, giving them a chance to put up some low numbers before things turned nasty. For those going off later in the day, well, there wasn't much to do except try to limit the damage.

The top 14 on the leaderboard all played in the morning. The top five — Mickelson, Stenson, Soren Kjeldsen (68), Keegan Bradley (68) and Zach Johnson (70) — teed off within 2 hours, 6 minutes of each other.

Of the 20 players who broke par, all but four went off in the morning and at least had a stretch of decent weather.

Mickelson, who won the British Open at Muirfield in 2013, was plenty damp after the round but managed to avoid any significant trouble during play. Known earlier in his career for his freewheeling approach on the course, he has wised up significantly. On Friday he often used irons or a lofted wood instead of his driver off the tee, minimizing his risk of trickling into one of Troon's diabolical pot bunkers.

At 46, Mickelson has a chance to become the second-oldest British Open champion, behind Old Tom Morris in 1867.

"I don't feel the pressure like probably a lot of players do to try to win the (British Open) because I've already won it," he said. "I would love to add to it, but having already done that was big."

A win also would make Mickelson the seventh consecutive American to win the British Open at Troon. On Thursday, he speculated that the golf gods might have conspired to keep his putt on No. 18 for 62 out of the hole. On Friday, he cited the deities when asked to explain the American dominance at Troon.

"I think … that's probably due to the gods," he said, "and I would expect them to be consistent."

The Golf Channel and ESPN contributed to this report.

     
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