The Open: Phil Mickelson and Darren Clarke bid sad farewells
BY the time you read this, Phil Mickelson might already be home in California addressing the problems which have cut short his time in the north-west of England.
Lear Jet for Phil, as somebody put it yesterday. Indeed, the courtesy car waiting to take him to the airport could have been revving up its engine with a few holes to go of his second round at the Open Championship yesterday. A birdie at the short par-3 12th hole offered some hope he might turn things around. In the end, however, this was an even more dire experience than his first round return of a three-over 73. He followed it up yesterday with a bafflingly bad round of 78, relegating him to the also-rans at 11 over.
It was an equally unhappy day for Darren Clarke, whose abdication as Open champion was completed with a one-over-par round of 71. It left him on seven over for the tournament and meant he too made a swift exit, although it was an improvement on his disastrous first round performance of 76 at least. One supposes he remembered to leave behind the Claret Jug that has barely left his sight since he won it in such uplifting circumstances last year at Sandwich.
If he is knocking back the Guinness this weekend, it will be to forget a defence of his title that disappointed the fans and left Clarke, to use his own description, “disgusted” with himself on Thursday. Yesterday’s improved performance brought him a bit of cheer. “I didn’t play that bad,” he said. “But you can’t compete putting the way I’m putting, so I’m frustrated.”
Others had an unsettling experience as they waited for the cut to be calculated. It ended up being three over par. Eight former Open champions missed out, including the 1996 Royal Lytham winner in Tom Lehman. However, Tom Watson will be a popular presence this weekend after securing a birdie at the last hole to finish on three over par for the tournament. He even admitted to misreading the crucial putt. “I pushed it,” he said. “Good thing I did misread it.”
Lee Westwood, too, survived, finishing on three over par after a 70 yesterday, and having missed out last year by a single stroke. Sergio Garcia was not so fortunate. Both he and playing partner Justin Rose made early exits, as did David Duval, the 2001 winner here.
Mickelson, though, was the highest-profile casualty yesterday. While it was of course notable, was his departure really surprising? The two sub-par rounds he conjured up in Castle Stuart at the Scottish Open look increasingly like glorious exceptions to the rule. Rounds in the mid-70s are more his thing these days. And yet it was still hard to believe that next to his name was a number as high as +10 as he made his way down the final fairway just after 2pm yesterday. By the time he was lifting his ball out of the cup, this had been adjusted to +11.
So long then, Phil. This was only the fourth time in 18 Open appearances that he has missed the cut. It is especially alarming given that he finished tied for second place last year. Many wondered whether he might achieve something memorable here this week, even though his form has taken a distinct turn for the worse. He also shot a disastrous final round of 78 at the US Open in June.
According to Mickelson, he was hitting the ball well enough. While this might have been so, it was his aim which was the problem. He found a bunker with his very first shot. He found another one with his last shot off the tee. Asked later about the state of these bunkers following torrential rain overnight, he said: “Bunkers? I hit it in a lot of bunkers and I only saw water in one. And I tried to look in every bunker, I really did!”
Amy, his wife, joined the faithful few who had figured that Mickelson might be a story, for all the wrong reasons. She had clearly guessed that her husband might need some support. It reached a particularly gruesome juncture at the 13th, 14th and 15th holes. He double-bogeyed the first two and then bogeyed the 15th, where one onlooker was having trouble believing his eyes. Mickelson was only nine over par for the tournament at this stage: “Nine over par? Nine over par? What’s going on? I could have given him a game.”
His family have got back a portion of the time sacrificed when daddy left early from a holiday in Rome earlier this month to make a late entry at the Scottish Open. While his wife and daughters went to visit the Vatican, Mickelson headed to Inverness in search of some salvation. He was briefly in contention there. Here, however, it was a battle from the start.
“I hit a bit more solidly today, but I hit into a lot more bunkers today,” he said. “The last two months have been pretty poor and a little frustrating. I thought it would be better.”
Credit to Mickelson. He fronted up afterwards, as ever. He looked visibly shell-shocked as he tried to make sense of it all. Here is a golfer who is routinely picked among the favourites to win majors. And yet his 78 was among the very worst rounds yesterday. Indeed, only six worse ones were posted.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 20 June 2013
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