London: While Henrik Stenson was claiming that he was “nowhere near 100 per cent” after his tie for 25th at the Scottish Open and talking down his chances of successfully defending the Open, the man he beat in last year’s classic Claret Jug duel was sounding ominously inspired.
This was the first time in 11 years that Phil Mickelson chose to skip Scotland, instead electing to arrive early in Southport. After a trip around the outward half on Saturday and the back nine yesterday, the left-hander was in an extremely positive mood about the course and his chances.
Mickelson has not won a tournament of any nature since the 2013 Open at Muirfield and recently split with his split with his long-time caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay. But he should not be discounted at a links he has adored since making his Open debut here in 1991. “I’ve always had an affinity for this course, always loved it and felt it was good course for me,” he said.
“I’m excited to be back here as it’s where I first believed I could win the Open. I was only 20 and knew that I was in for a real challenge, because I was not able to hit the ball low enough, with the small amount of spin necessary.
“It took me longer than I thought it would, but this was where the ambition took hold.”
In glorious weather, Mickelson was impressed by the condition of the layout. High winds are forecast for the Open and the American believes the officials have taken that into account. “It’s set up extremely fair given the potential for the elements and so forth,” Mickelson said. “Look at the fairway width and the rough, it progressively gets worse. Green size and speed is all right on. I think it’s as good as it can possibly be. I think it’s tremendous.”
The 47-year-old was in his usual playful demeanour, spotting Jordan Spieth walking into the wrong section of the locker room and telling his young countryman: “This right here is for past champions.”
Spieth helped make it a memorable opening practice day for the sizeable galleries, with the world’s top for players on show. Rory McIlroy, after his setback at Dundonald, his second missed cut in as many weeks, played 18 holes, while Dustin Johnson, the world No 1, and Hideki Matsuyama also prepped the links.