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Phil Mickelson delight despite Graeme McDowell's "one-dimensional" course blast

By Phil Casey

Phil Mickelson hailed his opening 66 in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open as the perfect preparation for the "punishment" which lies ahead in next week's Open Championship at Muirfield.

On the day that Ulsterman Graeme McDowell apologised for saying the event had lost its prestige by moving to a "one-dimensional" course which was not "strong enough" to host an event directly before a major, 117 of the 156-strong field at Castle Stuart broke par.

England's John Parry carded a flawless eight-under-par 64 to claim a one-shot lead over compatriot Simon Khan, with American superstar Mickelson a shot further back in a tie for third.

Defending champion Jeev Milkha Singh was another stroke back after a 67, but Open champion Ernie Els could only manage a level-par 72.

"It was a good start," said Mickelson, who missed the cut in the Greenbrier Classic last week on his first appearance since a record sixth runners-up finish in the US Open last month.

"We had perfect conditions the first 14 or 15 holes and there are opportunities on this course to make birdies and eagles.

"It's an above-average round but there were opportunities to pick up three or four shots that I let go so I have to get sharper.

"There was a good chance to go low but it's great for me to get off to a decent start because historically I have gotten off to poor starts the last couple of years here and I've been fighting just to make the cut and get into reasonable contention.

"Now getting off to a good start I'm not having to battle uphill. I'm able to move up the leaderboard if I play well.

"I think the best way to get ready for next week is to get into contention and to feel that nervousness and those butterflies and try to win.

"When I won the Masters in 2006, I won the week before in Atlanta by 13 shots and I thought that couldn't have been a better way to get ready.

"The reason I love playing this week before next week is that it gives me an opportunity to hit all the shots I'll play next week, all the bump and run shots, the chips around the greens, putts off the green, and yet it doesn't beat you up and it doesn't punish you the way we'll get punished next week.

"You can only handle so much of that."

Ulster's challenge is led by Gareth Maybin and Darren Clarke, both on three under par, while Michael Hoey is two over.

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