Phil Mickelson will take a one-shot lead into the third round of the Open Championship as he bids to record his sixth career Major and lift the Claret Jug for the second time in four years
Stenson surge cuts Mickelson’s lead
On a leaderboard with a host of fascinating sub-plots, resurgent Dane Soren Kjeldsen and out-of-form American Keegan Bradley share third place.
Mickelson birdied the 4th hole and made further gains at the 7th and 8th, where his tee shot on the Postage Stamp settled inches from the cup.
At that point, he looked like storming miles clear of the field, but he came home in one-over-par 36 on Troon’s notoriously difficult back nine to bring more players into the mix.
Stenson, meanwhile, also made hay on the front nine, playing his first six holes in four-under-par courtesy of a trio of birdies from the 3rd. He dropped a shot on the 9th, but made three birdies on the back side to come home in 32.
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Impressively, given the conditions, he managed to hit 89 per cent of greens in regulation.
Defending champion Zach Johnson hit some fine shots en route to a 70 that sees him sit just five back at the halfway mark, while Charl Schwartzel, Sergio Garcia and Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston are among those in a share of 6th place on four-under-par.
“I thought it was a good round to back up the low round yesterday,” Mickelson said.
“For the most part, I kept the ball in play and played kind of stress-free golf. I really enjoy the challenge that this weather and these elements provide.”
Mickelson also said that he’s comfortable on the links having developed a shot to get the ball on the ground as early as possible.
“When I look back on my career early on and not having success here, I think a lot of it was the fact that I was fighting the air so much, putting so much spin on the ball. Now I feel like I’m able to get the ball going down the fairway low and on the ground.”
While he admitted he’d absolutely love to win the Claret Jug for a second time, he’s in a relaxed frame of mind heading into the weekend.
“I don’t feel the pressure to win the Claret Jug like a lot of players probably do because I’ve already won it, and that takes a lot of pressure off. The desire to capture the Jug puts a lot of pressure on. The fact I’ve done it relieves some of that.”
A man who isn’t exempt from that feeling is World No. 6 Stenson, who is bidding to get over the line in a Major for the first time.
“I was five back of Phil after yesterday, so of course I was hoping to gain a little, and the way it turned out I gained a lot. It’s still early in the tournament, but I’m happy with the way I played the course. It’s not easy out there,” he said.
“I’m always having good vibes at The Open. My goal was to put myself in contention and I’ve done that halfway through. We’ve got another 27 holes to play before it gets really interesting.
“I haven’t been in contention for the past six Majors and that was a big, big goal of mine to try and be up there and give myself a chance. So yeah, so far, so good.”