Phil Mickelson may figure out this links golf thing yet.
In a tune-up for next week’s British Open at Muirfield, Mickelson bounced back from an opening three-putt bogey on his first hole to shoot a 6-under 66 on Thursday and charge up the leaderboard to two strokes back of early pacesetter John Parry.
''It's great for me to get off to a decent start because I have gotten off to poor starts the last couple of years here, and I have been fighting just to make the cut and get into reasonable contention,'' Mickelson told the AP after carding an eagle, six birdies, and two bogeys in the morning wave of golfers playing Castle Stuart. ''Many of my great rounds in the past have started with a bogey, so I wasn't too worried.''
Maybe not, but a wayward tee shot off No. 11 (his second hole of the day) had Lefty muttering to himself.
“What in the world was that?” Mickelson chastised himself, according to The Scotsman.
He put his early miscues behind him by draining a 15-foot eagle putt on the par-5 12th, though the publication noted he three-jacked from just short of the green on the par-5 second hole and failed to drill a 12-footer for eagle on the third.
"With such perfect conditions, there was an opportunity in the middle of the round where I got it going to get something really low," Mickelson told EuropeanTour.com. "I'll certainly take 66, but there was a chance with the conditions and the way I was playing to go really low."
With the big three -- Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Adam Scott -- taking a pass on the Scottish course, Mickelson is the only player in the top 10 to get in some pre-Open competitive licks on links terrain similar to what they’ll all face at Muirfield. The four-time major winner would love to lift the Claret Jug a week from Sunday, though his two top-10 results in 19 starts at the Open Championship do not bode well for the popular southpaw.
Despite Graeme McDowell dissing the track as not robust enough to stage an event before the Open (and later apologizing for his remarks, though early scores seem to back him up), Mickelson had nothing but rave reviews for what he called the “stupendous” 7,193-yard, par-72 layout.
''It gives you a chance to hit all the shots we'll play next week -- to have bump-and-run iron shots into the green, to run shots up, putt off the green...but not get beat up the week before,'' Mickelson, who had yet to play a practice round at Muirfield, said to the AP. ''You can only handle so much punishment the week before the Open when the rough is so thick and the penalty for a miss is so great.''
A good start was just what Mickelson needed, after missing the cut at last week’s Greenbrier Classic following the anguish of another second-place finish at last month’s U.S. Open. “I don't want to diminish [his record sixth runner-up finish at a U.S. Open], because it takes a while, and it hurt,” Mickelson told reporters Wednesday. “But part of professional golf is dealing with losing and dealing with disappointment and being resilient and bouncing back and using it as a steppingstone.
“It's time to move on and get back to playing some golf.”