Mickelson relishing tough Scottish Open conditions

Phil Mickelson of the USA plays out of the bunker at the Scottish Open. Picture: SNSPhil Mickelson of the USA plays out of the bunker at the Scottish Open. Picture: SNS
Phil Mickelson of the USA plays out of the bunker at the Scottish Open. Picture: SNS
DEFENDING champion Phil Mickelson got the tough conditions he claimed he wanted for the first round of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open on Thursday.

Mickelson, who tasted victory at Castle Stuart 12 months ago and won the Open Championship a week later at Muirfield, insisted he would relish the forecast rain and strong winds at Royal Aberdeen.

And although the wind had not reached the threatened 35mph, it was strong enough to be a factor as a star-studded field warmed up for next week’s Open at Hoylake.

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Mickelson was among the early starters and opened with three straight pars matched by playing partners Luke Donald and Joost Luiten, while Rory McIlroy had birdied the par-five second to move one under.

An eight on the same hole from Irish Open winner Mikko Ilonen showed what dangers lurked in the heavy rough, but Sweden’s Kristoffer Broberg was also showing what was possible at the other end of the leaderboard.

In the first group out at 6:30am, Broberg had birdied the first, sixth, eighth and ninth to reach the turn in 32, before adding birdies on the 11th and 12th.

At six under par he enjoyed a three-shot lead over former Ryder Cup star Nicolas Colsaerts, the Belgian picking up three birdies in his first six holes.

Mickelson set about closing the gap in style with an eagle on the par-five sixth and followed that with three pars to reach the turn in 34, two under par.

Playing partner Donald was also two under after birdies at the sixth and eighth, while England’s David Howell had joined Colsaerts on three under thanks to an excellent recovery from a double bogey on the fourth.

Howell, who played his 500th European Tour event in France last week, bounced back promptly with a birdie on the fifth and then eagled the sixth and 12th.

Broberg, who won four times on the Challenge Tour last season - three of the victories coming in the space of four weeks - parred his final six holes to card a flawless 65, breaking the course record by a shot.

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But surprisingly given the conditions, he did not look certain to remain top of the leaderboard, with McIlroy carding a hat-trick of birdies from the eighth to move four under par with the easier back nine to come.

Mickelson remained two under par, although it remained to be seen if any penalty would be assessed after the five-time major winner’s ball appeared to move as he went to play his second shot to the 10th.