ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Phil Mickelson accomplished two things while shooting a 1-under-par 71 on a rainy, blustery Friday at the 139th British Open. He barely made the cut — probably. And he played in gusts as strong as they can be without being unplayable.
At around 2:40 p.m. local time, just after Mickelson rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt on 18 to get back to even par for the tournament, play was suspended because of high winds. "I'm happy for those guys," he said with a straight face but obvious sarcasm after an R&A official with a loudspeaker told fans of the suspension. "That's great."
Little has gone according to plan for Mickelson at this British Open, but then again, little usually does at the third major, which has confounded him like none other.
Starting his round in the rain just after 9 a.m. local time, he hit his opening shot with an iron so far left it nearly ended up at the Swilcan Bridge on 18. Then he hit a wedge to four feet behind the hole. But he missed the birdie putt. He eagled the fifth hole, and botched a two-and-a-half-foot par putt on the sixth. Mickelson's dizzying ups and downs are usually exasperating at the British Open, just as they're usually thrilling at the Masters and, sometimes, the PGA.
He hit his approach shot close to the flag on 13 — but he hit it close to the flag on the adjoining green, the fifth. After waiting for one of the threesomes on that hole to putt out, Mickelson deftly executed a two-putt from roughly 80 feet.
As is his custom, Mickelson spent a good half hour decompressing before addressing the press after signing his scorecard. He kept his comments to a minimum.
"I'm frustrated because I love this golf course and this tournament, and I felt I was playing well coming in," he said. "And I didn't play well the first two days."
Some of that was not his fault. On the unlucky side of the draw, he missed the perfectly still early morning hours Thursday and played through a 6 p.m. rainstorm. He started Friday's round under a downpour and was still clutching his umbrella as he stood on the 11th tee. His tee shot hit the back of the putting surface, which looked like a good, safe shot, but Mickelson's ball was still being blown slowly across the green, left-to-right, by the time he had walked about 75 yards off the tee. By the time Mickelson got to the 17th (Road) Hole, playing partner Colin Montgomerie had to take off his visor and hand it to his caddie while he played his second shot, lest his lid take flight and head for the North Sea.
"With winds this strong, your putts from three feet are greatly affected," Mickelson said, "not to mention trying to make 8-, 10- or 12-footers [in the] crosswinds. It's very difficult. The balls are blowing a little bit, and you can't play the ball in the air. It's got to be along the ground because once it gets in the air, it just keeps going off line."
Case in point, Mickelson used driver to try to get close to the green on the 348-yard, par-4 12th hole, but watched as his tee shot soared well left — his stock miss — toward a thick stand of gorse bushes. After a lengthy search for his ball, and a lengthy debate with an official, and some sort of exotic line-of-sight ruling, he got a good break and a drop, with one-stroke penalty, next to the adjoining sixth green. He pitched up to 40 feet short of the 12th pin and two-putted for bogey.
In two days of uninspired play, Mickelson has hit just 18 of 32 fairways (nine each day), and 23 of 36 greens in regulation — below the field average in both categories. He hasn't putted well, either, taking 30 putts Friday after totaling 31 Thursday. The lone bright spot was he avoided the two three-putts he had in round one.
A dozen shots behind leader Louis Oosthuizen, Mickelson faces yet another forgettable Open result, barring a fortuitous confluence of great play and good weather. "I've got to go out and shoot a low round [Saturday]," he said, "and I don't know if the conditions will be conducive to that, but hopefully they will be."