Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Phil Mickelson 'heartbroken' after record round at British Open

It’s been three years since Phil Mickelson won a golf tournament of any kind, the last coming at the 2013 British Open.

His win at Muirfield back then was a stunner. Not that Mickelson winning is stunning, but rather that in all his brilliance, the British Open to that point hadn’t been a place he’d found much success.

But he did then, coming from five strokes down in the final round to win by three.

In the three years since his British breakthrough, he’s flirted with victory at a pair of majors – second at the 2014 PGA and the 2015 Masters – but otherwise has carried the look of someone whose major-winning days are behind him; his last five finishes are T-64, T-20, T-18, Cut, Cut.

And yet there he was Thursday, back in Scotland, this time at Royal Troon, rekindling the memories of, well … there really is no comparison.

Heading to the 18th tee, Mickelson was a birdie away from shooting the lowest round in major history. Like, ever.

He’d carded eight birdies, no bogies and had 62 squarely in sight.

Others have come close. Nick Price lipped out a birdie putt at the 1986 Masters; Tiger Woods did the same at the 2007 PGA.

And now add Phil Mickelson to the list. Having reached the 18th green in two, Mickelson stood over a 16-footer for birdie and a chance at history … and it lipped out.

He thought he had it, mouthed “Oh my God” as it scooted out of the hole, and was still shaking his head as he walked to the scorer’s shed. He settled for 63, tying him for the lowest score in major history, and a 3-shot lead in the tournament.

Still …

“It’s heartbreaking,” Mickelson said after his round. “As great a round as this was, I’m not going to have a chance to do something historical like that again.”

He understands the significance. Sixty-three is brilliant, but 27 others have done it in majors, including eight at the British. But 62, that would have put him in his own club – given him something that not even Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer or Tiger Woods have: the unquestionable greatest round in major championship history.

“The opportunity to shoot 62 and be the first one to do it, I just don’t think that’s going to come around again,” Mickelson said, “and that’s why I walk away so disappointed.”

Oh, well, right? Not bad for an old guy.

Having turned 46 in June, Mickelson is a month or so younger than Jack Nicklaus was when he won the 1986 Masters. The difference is Mickelson is three years removed from his last major victory, while Jack was six. To that point, Nicklaus’ days of winning appeared to be over. Despite not having won in three years, the same can’t be said of Mickelson.

Now he has to regroup from the, ahem, disappointment of 63. He’s still got a golf tournament to play. Fifty-four holes left between him and a second Claret Jug.

He had the benefit Thursday of perfect playing conditions (and it should be noted, everyone else did, too). He likely won’t Friday when he goes out in the morning when the weather is expected to get nasty. Scores are going to go higher, but Mickelson will have the benefit of a head start.

Three strokes over Reed, four over defending champ Zach Johnson, six over Rory McIlroy and eight over Jordan Spieth.

Conditions were ideal for someone to go really low, but only Mickelson took advantage.

Will it be another one of those major moments of nostalgia only to be erased by the weekend? Or will Mickelson still be there come Sunday afternoon?

“One of the biggest challenges is when you shoot a round like this, you start expectations running through your head and so forth,” Mickelson said, “and that’s the one thing that I’ll have to try to suppress and hold off.”

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