By Larry King
TROON, Scotland (Reuters) – Phil Mickelson charged up the leaderboard at the British Open on Thursday, grabbing the first-day lead and a share of the record for the best score in a major championship.
Aided by birdies on 10, 14, 16 and 17 on Royal Troon’s tricky back nine, the 46-year-old American posted a 63, equaling the record low for majors first set by Johnny Miller in the 1973 U.S. Open.
Mickelson came within a fraction of an inch of breaking the record outright. His curling 15-foot putt for birdie circled the hole on 18 before settling just outside it.
“That putt on 18 was an opportunity to do something historical,” Mickelson said at a news conference. “I knew it, and with a foot to go I thought I had done it… and then I had the heartbreak that I didn’t and watched that ball lip out. It was, wow, that stings.”
It was still good enough for an eight-under effort and a bogey-free round, and it put him three ahead of compatriot Patrick Reed and Martin Kaymer of Germany.
All three seemed to be well-positioned for the second day, but Kaymer at least was not getting ahead of himself.
“It’s only a quarter of a marathon…” he said. “It’s a good start, It’s a very good start. But tomorrow we’ll see how the weather will turn out and then play another good round. That’s all you can do.”
Reed’s early 66, a round punctuated by an eagle from the fairway on the par-four third hole, set the clubhouse lead for much of the day. He has no intention of changing his approach, although the weather is forecast to turn wet and cold after Thursday’s warm sun and gentle winds.
“My game plan is to play to certain areas on each hole,” he said. “I’m not really going to stray too far away from that. It’s just going to probably determine what club off the tee. Some holes today might have been a 4-iron, but if the wind is howling, it might be a 2-iron … you just never know.”
Just behind Reed and Kaymer were a shifting cast of players who kept threatening and the falling back throughout the day, making four-under a bar that was hard to clear.
Rory McIlroy and Bubba Watson, among others, advanced to four or five-under and then retreated.
Northern Irishman McIlroy double-bogeyed the 13th to drop back from four under. Watson fell farther and faster: he was leading the championship on five under until he triple-bogeyed the short eighth, the Postage Stamp.
Reed’s eagle showed early on that it was possible to jump in the right direction, too.
Former champion Louis Oosthuizen emphasized the point when he aced the 14th hole, his tee shot taking two hops and diving out of sight, helping him to finish with a 71.
The day began with local favorite Colin Montgomerie hitting the opening drive, his first appearance at the Open in six years and what may well be his last.
He carded a double-bogey on the first hole after finding one of Troon’s deep greenside bunkers. But he took one shot back with a birdie on the third and another on the fourth.
The Scot narrowly missed a third straight birdie on the fifth, then went ahead and made one on the sixth.
On the Postage Stamp, his tee shot landed within six feet of the pin. He made that birdie and added a fifth on the ninth, meaning as he finished his front nine, Montgomerie was tied for the lead on three-under.
He fared less well on the back nine but still finished at even-par.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez/Toby Davis)