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The Open: Mickelson getting into the swing of it

Former champion beats worst of the weather to throw down gauntlet but focused Stenson is hot on his heels

By Paul Mahoney

It was not just the fish and the Mars bars that were battered in Troon. Not a single player with an afternoon tee-time got their name onto the leaderboard after torrential rain and 40mph gusts hammered the second round of The Open.

Phil Mickelson got lucky with a breakfast tee-time and held on to his lead with a two-under 69, which took him to 10 under for the tournament. He now has a chance to become the oldest winner of The Open since 46-year-old Old Tom Morris in 1867. Old Tom has bragging rights over Old Phil by 68 days.

The last time a 46-year-old won a Major was Jack Nicklaus at the 1986 Masters. But the daddy of them all is Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 US PGA Championship.

So much for the new generation and for golf being a young man's game for weightlifting gym junkies.

Mickelson was playing links golf wearing oven gloves. Or all-weather gloves, as the American prefers to call them. "I've learned a few tricks over the years," Mickelson said.

"I started wearing them the year that Darren Clarke won (the 2011 Open at Royal St George's) and I made a run on Sunday. I had instant success. Any time it rains, I put them on."

Mickelson holds a one-shot lead over Sweden's Henrik Stenson (below), who ploughed through the field with a six-under 65. Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen and American Keegan Bradley are seven under while defending champion Zach Johnson is five under.

In the chasing pack at four under are Charl Schwartzel, Sergio Garcia and England's Andrew Johnston.

'The Beatles' struggled to play all the right notes in the teeth of the storm. Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson finished at two under, Jason Day at one over and Jordan Spieth made the cut on the number at four over.

Spieth had a philosophical view of the day. He said: "You wish this was just a round with your buddies where you go into the clubhouse and have one or seven pints afterwards."

Mickelson cursed the golfing gods in the first round for causing his putt for the first ever 62 in 156 years of the Majors to lip out. But he owes them a debt of gratitude for pressing the snooze button on the storm that was supposed to wreck the chances of those with morning tee-times.

By the time the storm had got out of bed, Mickelson was almost through his front nine. By then, he had added three birdies to increase his lead to 11 under. He clung on to the wreckage of the storm to finish 10 under.

And then the golfing gods turned up the volume of the wind and rain. Of those with afternoon tee-times, only Steve Stricker's name was sticking to the leaderboard. He battled his way to 14 pars but the weather got him in the end - a quadruple bogey eight at the 15th.

The luck of the draw has always been an issue at The Open with the vagaries of seaside weather but the chances of half the field have been wiped out. Perhaps it is time to have two-tee starts to create a fairer result.

Mickelson and Stenson will go out together in the final group of the third round. Their stress levels will be at opposite ends of the scale.

"I don't feel the pressure like a lot of players do to try to win the Claret Jug because I've already won it," Mickelson said.

"The desire to capture that Claret Jug puts a lot of pressure on."

How's that for putting pressure on his nearest rival?

Stenson is already having fun with the stress. That's just the way he is.

"I'm 40. I'm not going to play these tournaments forever and ever," he said. "I don't have another 50 goes at them. It might be a dozen or 15 in total.

"So I better start putting myself in position and giving myself chances if I want to make it happen.

"Phil's not going to take his foot off the pedal. What does he have, five Majors? It's always harder to push the first one over the line, I would imagine, than the fifth one. But at the same time he's six years older than me, so I should be a little stronger, shouldn't I?"

Looking for an outsider to root for? Try London ace Johnston. The 27-year-old with a Father Christmas beard looks like he's just walked off the set of the Beverley Hillbillies.

At four under, he's the best-placed home golfer still in with a chance. But supporters should know that no one calls him Andrew. His nickname is Beef.

"When I was a kid, if I'd grow my hair out, I'm quarter Jamaican so it goes curly," Johnston said. "So one of my friends said, 'Look at your head, it looks like a big bit of beef. You've got a beef head'. And it stuck. Now everyone calls me Beef."

Players wore black ribbons on their caps and the French flag flew at half-mast after the Bastille Day atrocity in Nice. Clemont Sordet wrote 'Pray for Nice' on his cap in a show of support for his home town.

Belfast Telegraph


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