Mickelson opens with 71 at Scottish Open

Phil Mickelson lost the Scottish Open in a playoff last year.
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

LUSS, Scotland (AP) — Phil Mickelson opened with an even-par 71 today at the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.

(Round 1 scores from the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond)

Although the course is nothing like the one at Royal Birkdale, where the Open will be played next week, Mickelson said Wednesday that it's the perfect place to hone his game.

"Part of getting ready for next week is performing well this week, hitting shots sharply and crisply, being prepared for this week," said Mickelson, who spent three days at Royal Birkdale.

"I think it's a very fair, fun, difficult test of golf. I saw it in three different conditions - calm, very windy and in a medium breeze," he said. "The course is in immaculate shape."

Mickelson had his best chance in five tries of winning the Scottish Open last year until he bogeyed the final hole to fall into a tie with Gregory Havret, then bogeyed it again on the first playoff hole to hand the victory to the Frenchman.

"I'm hoping to improve on that," Mickelson said.

Mickelson has won twice on the U.S. tour this year, the Northern Trust Open in California in February and the Colonial in Texas in May.

"It's been up and down. I had a lot of consistency from 10th to 25th but not the performances in contention as much as I would like," Mickelson said. "What I'm really concerned about is the next nine or 10-week stretch with the Open, our FedEx Cup, the PGA, Akron. That will really determine how the year went."

Mickelson feels that the absence of Tiger Woods, who had knee surgery after winning the U.S. Open, will affect the rest of the year.

"It's going to have a huge effect on the FedEx Cup and the Ryder Cup, losing the No. 1 player in the world from our team," Mickelson said. "It will also have a negative effect on television ratings and fan interest. But it opens the way for players to come through and win tournaments they might not have won."

Chief among his rivals here is No. 3-ranked Adam Scott, the winner in Qatar and in the Byron Classic on the U.S. tour this year, and former winners Ernie Els, Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood.

Els broke a slump by winning the Honda Classic in Florida but then missed the halfway cut at the Masters, the BMW PGA at Wentworth and the Memorial.

"My defense for the last two is that I was just into swing changes with (new coach) Butch (Harmon) and it didn't happen for me," Els said. "After the Memorial I did some more work with Butch and the changes are coming around. The more I play the better I will play with the changes."

He had a good U.S. Open going last month until his putting went askew. He tied for 14th.

Els has had three weeks off at his England home, watching the Henley Regatta and Wimbledon with his family.

"My game has been a little bit dicey to say the least. It's got a bit of rust on it," he said. "But I've won here twice and I feel this is a good golf course for me. And I feel refreshed."

Els, too, felt the loss of Woods from upcoming majors.

"Whoever is going to win next week is going to have to answer questions like 'Do you think you would have won if Tiger were here?' But the game of golf will live on after Tiger Woods, although we will miss him."

Els said his family's welfare remains of primary importance, particularly since his son Ben was diagnosed with autism this year.

"He will never be able to play golf or tennis or rugby. But after a while, you cope," Els said. "I don't think it has taken my focus away from trying to reach my goals."

Montgomerie faded to 24th in the European Open last week in the defense of the title he won at The K Club a year earlier. Down to 80th in the world, he needs a good two weeks, especially after missing the halfway cut in the Scottish and British Opens last year.

Luke Donald has withdrawn with a wrist injury, and David Frost pulled out to rest after earning a spot at the British Open at the European Open on Sunday.

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