Scotland became Scotland again on Friday at Royal Troon and rains came to the 145th Open Championship.
It rained on overnight leader Phil Mickelson but it did not stop his parade.
Mickelson carefully plodded his way through the falling moisture and fashioned a two-under par 69 that got him to double-figures under par for the championship. “I enjoy the challenge,” said Mickelson, who played without opening his umbrella. He simply put on his rainsuit and waterproof gloves that allow him to swing with them on. “I played to a lot of centers of greens in these tough conditions.
One place he didn’t go for the center was at the short par three Postage Stamp eighth hole where he nearly made a hole-in-one. His tee shot stopped just two inches from the cup. “That was tasty, it had delayed juice, I like that, it almost went in,” was how Lefty described his best shot of the round.
But as good as he has performed in posting a 10-under par total of 132, he’s only a shot in front of the man who finished runnerup to him at the 2013 Open Championship.
Henrik Stenson was a ball-striking machine in the early morning elements. His precision iron shots paved the way for a six-under par 65, easily the best round of the morning players. That jumped him to nine-under par and he earned a spot next to Mickelson for Saturday’s third round.
“It was just a hang-on back nine,” said Stenson. “I only had one bogey, I didn’t get it up and down on nine but I was fortunate to make birdie at 10 then get two more coming in. You just gotta pick your spot and pick your shots and go for it.”
Soren Kjeldsen finished before Mickelson and Stenson, his round of 68 got him within three of Mickelson’s lead at seven-under. Keegan Bradley, long absent from leaderboards, continued his journey on the comeback trail. After an opening 67, his 68 boosted him to seven-under with Kjeldsen.
While the leaders battled rain for most of their round, the wind was not a major factor but it began to pick up to 20 miles per hour as Stenson finished his final hole. “I think it will be very tough for the players out there now,” Stenson predicted.
Defending champion Zach Johnson, who finished with a pair of bogeys on Thursday, stumbled again at the 18th. Another bogey there cost him a sub-70 round but he’s still five-under and in the thick of it going into the weekend.
Mickelson was philosophical about his outlook for the final 36 holes.
“It would be great to add it (win again) but knowing I’ve already done it takes the pressure off. I think it’s a lot easier for me having already held it (The Claret Jug).”
Mickelson and the rest of the morning players were safely indoors when the afternoon groups went out and were brutalized by winds that hit 25-30 miles per hour, making good scoring virtually impossible.
Steve Stricker had one of the most incredible rounds of the afternoon, save one hole. Stricker started the day four-under and in solid contention. He had 17 pars in the blustery conditions, but it was the 15th hole that took its toll. He lost one driver in the tall fescue and nearly lost his provisional. His fourth barely got out of the high stuff and when all was said and done, he walked off the par four with a quadruple bogey eight, erasing 35 holes of really good golf. He shot 75 to stand at even par.
When the day started, the cut line was one-under, but by time the winds wreaked havoc on the afternoon players, it had moved to four-over par.