THE commentators reckoned it was a touch of Mickelson magic. Andrew Coltart, working for Sky Sports at Castle Stuart, even described it as the “greatest shot” he’d ever seen.
Big Phil, though, shrugged off the praise being showered on him for one of his trademark flop shots that set up a birdie at the third.
“I certainly didn’t think it was possible to leave it short of the hole, but I think you are over-estimating that one,” said the American afterwards. “I probably pull it off six times out of ten and this firmer ground is good to get the club to pop back up into the ball and get it to shoot up vertically. It was a good shot, but it probably wasn’t as hard as it looked because the lie was conducive and the wind was helping.”
Mickelson will show off his short-game skills today with the leaders in his sights. He’s on eight-under after rounds of 66 and 70 and isn’t just here simply for an Open warm-up or to please the NBC viewers watching the event back home this week. “Hopefully I can make a bit of a move tomorrow but not for their benefit,” said the four-times major winner of the American channel providing live coverage of a European Tour event for the first time. “I want to win the Scottish Open and feel I’m playing well enough to do it. I just need a good round tomorrow to get in the right position.”
For the second day running, he started with a three-putt. “It was one of those rounds that could have gotten away from me as I was a little bit off today,” he admitted. “But I fought hard. I feel I’m hitting good shots and if I can get a hot putter then I can hopefully make up ground.”
Mickelson isn’t the only American in the mix. Peter Uihlein, winner of the Madeira Island Open earlier in the season, now has a bigger prize in his sights. Two-over-par after six holes yesterday, the 23-year-old covered the remaining 12 in eight-under. On 11-under at halfway, he’s just one behind leader Chris Doak along with English duo Matt Southgate (64) and Ross Fisher (65) as well as Dane JB Hansen (65).
Uihlein shared the lead at the same stage in the Irish Open a fortnight ago but fell away in the final two rounds. “It’s about trying to keep putting yourself in contention,” he said after stepping up his bid to become a home of golf winner as well after close friend Brooks Koepka claimed the Scottish Challenge title in Aviemore last month. “Sometimes my mind races too fast so I’ve got to try and slow everything down and work at my own pace.”
Unlike many of the players here this week, Uihlein has played at Royal Aberdeen, where the event is moving in 12 months’ time. Recalling his visit as a member of the US Walker Cup team in 2011, he said: “It was blowing so much then – it was brutal. It will be a much different test to this.”