Less than 24 hours after being cruelly denied a place in the record books, former champion Phil Mickelson made the most of a stroke of luck to create history in the 145th Open Championship.
Mickelson added a second round of 69 to his opening 63 at Royal Troon for a 10-under-par total of 132, one shot lower than the previous best at the Ayrshire venue set by American Bobby Clampett in 1982 and equalled by Darren Clarke in 1997.
And although that was only good enough for a one-shot lead over Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, Mickelson could count his blessings at being firmly on the right side of a draw which left Rory McIlroy eight adrift, Jason Day 11 behind and Danny Willett and Jordan Spieth battling to make the cut on the mark of four over.
The top 14 players on the leaderboard had all played late on Thursday and teed off by 10:09am yesterday, while driving wind and rain in late afternoon sent scores soaring.
That was of little concern to Mickelson, who was left hoping for a repeat of the result at Muirfield in 2013, when he claimed his fifth major title as Stenson finished runner-up.
“We’re only halfway done with the tournament so it’s too far off to start thinking like that, but certainly there is nothing more than I would love to add another Claret Jug,” said the 46-year-old, who would become the fourth oldest winner of any major and the oldest in the Open since 1867.
“I think there is a lot of pressure off me given the fact that I’ve already got one.
“The other thing is that from 10 years ago, when I was playing my best golf, I’m 25 pounds lighter, I’m in better shape, I’m physically stronger than I was. I feel better and now that my swing is back on plane, I’m starting to hit some shots like I did 10 years ago and starting to play some of my best golf again.
“So I don’t see why there’s any reason why I can’t continue that, not just this week, but for years. That’s kind of what the game plan is.”
Mickelson had come agonisingly close to making history on day one, his birdie putt on the 18th to record the first 62 in any major championship catching the edge of the cup and staying out.
The resulting 63 was the 28th such score in majors and the first in the Open since Rory McIlroy’s opening round at St Andrews in 2010, which the Northern Irishman famously followed with an 80 in winds gusting up to 40 miles per hour which forced play to be suspended.
However, Mickelson was never in danger of suffering such a fate as a testing early breeze swiftly died and allowed him to extend his overnight lead to five shots with birdies on the fourth, seventh and eighth, the latter coming after his tee shot on the ‘Postage Stamp’ span back to within inches of the hole.
“That was really a salty little shot,” explained Mickelson, who wore a black all-weather glove on each hand to combat the intermittent downpours.
“I had a sand wedge and drove it back there to try and skid it back to the hole and you can see the delayed juice kick in.”
Wayward drives on the 12th and 15th led to Mickelson’s first bogeys of the championship and meant Stenson closed the gap to a single stroke thanks to a superb 65, his lowest score in the Open by two shots.
“I haven’t been in contention for the last six majors and it was a big, big goal of mine to try and be up there and give myself a chance. So far, so good. I’m not going to play these tournaments forever.”