It is shaping as the veterans’ Open Championship at Troon.
by Martin Blake, Golf Australia @ Royal Troon
The 46-year-old Phil Mickelson retained his lead through two rounds in changeable, tough and sometimes treacherous conditions today, but he has a cluster of 40-somethings on his tail.
The five-time major champion today added a fine 69 to his sensational opening 63, and at one point of his second round the American icon had extended his buffer to five shots, when he came within a few centimetres of acing the par-three eighth, the Postage Stamp, with a magnificent wedge shot.
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He threatened the tournament’s 36-hole scoring record of 130 at one point, but the lefty finally gave back a shot to par, the last in the field to do so, on his 30th hole of the tournament, then dropped another before steadying late to post 10 under par.
Sweden’s 40-year-old Henrik Stenson, who carded a wonderful 65, is the closest challenger, a shot back. The leaderboard is packed with veterans, headed by Mickelson who has the chance to match Jack Nicklaus’ feat of winning the Masters in 1986 at age 46.
“So the other thing is that I understand the age thing, but the fact is that from 10 years ago, when I was playing my best golf, I’m 25 pounds lighter, I’m in better shape, I’m physically stronger than I was,” Mickelson said.
“I feel better and I’m playing, now that my swing is back on plane, I’m starting to hit some shots like I did 10 years ago and starting to play some of my best golf again. So I don’t see why there’s any reason why I can’t continue that not just this week, but for years. That’s kind of what the game plan is.”
He won the fifth of his majors in 2013, the Open at Muirfield, ironically beating Stenson into second place. Tomorrow, they will play together in the final group.
Stenson, the world No.6, is among that handful of great players never to have won a major, alongside the likes of Sergio Garcia, but he has plans to change that.
“I’m 40,” he said. “I’m not going to play these tournaments forever and ever. I don’t have another 50 goes at them. It might be a dozen or 15 in total, so I have to start putting myself in position. I haven’t done that in the last six majors so it’s time to getting going.”
Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen, 41, is tied third with American Keegan Bradley at seven under. Another player who has seen a few travails and triumphs, the defending champion Zach Johnson, who is 40, also is in the top five.
All of the leaders had the good fortune to have a late-early draw on Thursday and Friday, by far the pick of the schedules. As is nearly always the case in links golf, it has proven to be significant.
World No. 2 Dustin Johnson (-2), Rory McIlroy (-2) and world No. 1 Jason Day (+1) have been off the pace, although both McIlroy and Day have had the worst of a bad draw, copping a pelting in the squall that came over the course late today.