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Lefty On The Loch

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in last week’s Greenbrier Championship before traveling to Scotland this week to play the Scottish Open, largely in preparation for next week’s Open Championship.

The Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart Golf Links was a picture of serenity for the first 3 rounds, while players took advantage of benign conditions to reduce the scenic links venue to a birdie barrage. Those conditions would change on Sunday’s final round and surging winds would give the players a much sterner test.

The leader after three rounds was former world #4 ranked player, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, who has been playing some great golf lately after voyaging into golf’s hinterland for the last three years. Stenson played superbly for the first three days to lead at 16-under par, with Mickelson two shots back at 14-under.

Mickelson began Sunday’s final round with a disastrous double bogey on the first hole to give the Swede a 4 shot cushion. Following that up with another careless bogie on his third hole, Mickelson would trail Stenson by five shots. Stenson, whose nickname is “The Iceman”, seemed poised for his first victory since the 2009 Players Championship.

Mickelson then did what only Mickelson, can really do. He birdied the next three holes and followed those up with pars on holes 7-10 before making three more consecutive birdies on holes 11-13 to claim the outright lead. There are reasons that another of his nicknames is ‘Phil the Thrill’, and none were more apparent than on Sunday.

Stenson had played steadily until he bogeyed three of his last six holes which meant that all Mickelson had to do was par the par-5 finishing hole to capture his first title in the United Kingdom.

Naturally, he could not do that and three putted from twenty feet to record another ‘Mickelsonian’ (yes, it’s become a word) tragedy. Six runner-up finishes in the US Open and a plethora of other spectacular triumphs and disasters (with apologies to Kipling), there is no-one in the game that can make a collective audience hold their breath like Phil

Shakespeare never met Mickelson. Had he, may have written, “A Midsummer Night’s Mickelson”. Dante wrote before the greatest game was invented, otherwise “The Divine Comedy” would have had verses that chronicled, ‘Lefty’.    

Up until a few years ago, Mickelson had never been a fan of links golf. Golf’s purest and most ancient style of play had proved a mystery to the 43 year old American until he decided to embrace the deliberately un-manicured fairways, howling winds, and devastating rough that usually equate to “links” style golf. Tom Watson suffered from the same allergies until he too began a love affair with the heather, gorse and pot bunkers that are the mainstays of links golf and won five Open Championships.

After his 72nd hole meltdown, Mickelson would find himself in a play-off with South African Branden Grace. Naturally, Mickelson would birdie the same 18th hole in the first play-off hole, and win.

The Open Championship is next week. By all accounts Mickelson has played his way into the forefront of contenders. It would be the richest of theater if he were to win; it would also be his recalcitrant role, if he missed the cut.

Stay tuned.