TROON, Scotland — Phil Mickelson’s try at history missed by the distance of a gnat’s eyelash. An 18-foot putt on the final hole of the British Open’s first day agonizingly spun out of the cup, coming to rest oh so close to the first 62 ever in a major golf championship.
“I want to shed a tear right now,” said Mickelson, only half joking. “That putt on 18 was an opportunity to do something historical. I knew it, and with a foot to go, I thought I had it done.
“I saw that ball rolling right to the center. I went to go get it. I had that surge of adrenaline that I had just shot 62, and then I had the heartbreak that I didn’t, and watched the ball lip out. It was, wow, that stings.”
But only to a point. Mickelson’s eight-birdie, no-bogey 63 Thursday, when the sun shone and the wind stilled, was the 28th 63 shot in a major, this one 8 under because par at Troon is 71. It was good for a three-shot lead over Patrick Reed and Martin Kaymer, who shot 66.
Last year’s champion, Zach Johnson, was among the eight golfers who tied for fourth at 4-under 67 on a day when because of the weather — predicted to turn nasty Friday — the tiger that Troon can be was only a kitten.
“I haven’t seen a day like this in some time,” said Mickelson, who was in the country for last week’s Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. “I’ve been here 11 days. The wind is nonexistent. The sun is out. Weird.”
And for most of the golfers, wonderful. Especially for Mickelson, whose last victory was in the 2013 British Open at Muirfield on the other side of the country. He is 46 and had nothing better this year than two seconds, at Pebble Beach and Memphis. He’s old for a regular Tour player, although Jack Nicklaus did win a Masters at 46.
Mickelson was wary. “One of the great challenges when you shoot a round like this,” he said, “you start expectations running through your head, and so forth, and that’s the thing I’ll try to suppress and hold off. We have three more rounds.”
And a field that includes major winners in close pursuit, including Zach Johnson, former PGA champ Keegan Bradley (67), 2013 U.S. Open winner Justin Rose (68) and Open, PGA and U.S. Open winner Rory McIlroy (69).
Dustin Johnson, who won the last two events he played in, the U.S. Open and Bridgestone, and Jordan Spieth were at 71. Jason Day had a scruffy 73.
“There’s a lot of guys that have shot 63,” Mickelson said. “But the opportunity to shoot 62 and be the first one to do it, that’s not going to come around again, and that’s why I walk away so disappointed.”
Unlike ballplayers who won’t talk about no-hitters as a ballgame goes on, Mickelson and caddie Jim “Bones” McKay discussed the possibility of a 62 as they approached the final green, hard by the brick clubhouse. He had hit a 6-iron from a sloping lie near a bunker.
“The putt was outside,” Mickelson said. “It was outside a few inches, breaking left in the middle and then straight the last bit. Well, it was supposed to be straight the last bit.”
Mickelson, along with two-time Open winner Ernie Els and Lee Westwood, didn’t tee off until 1:15 p.m. British time, more than six hours after Colin Montgomerie — whose father once was club secretary at Troon — hit the first shot of the day.
Montgomerie’s next shot buried in a bunker and he took a double bogey. But at age 53, and cheered by in effect a hometown crowd, he finished with an even-par 71. “It was a great honor for me and the members at Troon,” Montgomerie said, “that I kicked it off this morning.”
Americans have won the last six Opens at Troon, and the round began with U.S. players Reed, Justin Thomas, Steve Stricker and Billy Horschel at the top. Reed, with an eagle 2 at the 377-yard second hole, took control. Until Mickelson did.
Said the first-round leader: “It was fun to take advantage of the day.”
Players who have scored 63s in major championships:
Player Round Year
Greg Norman 1st 1996
Nick Price 3rd 1986
Vijay Singh 2nd 2003
Jack Nicklaus 1st 1980*
Tom Weiskopf 1st 1980
Johnny Miller 4th 1973*
Phil Mickelson 1st 2016
Rory McIlroy 1st 2010
Payne Stewart 4th 1993
Nick Faldo 2nd 1993
Jodie Mudd 4th 1991
Paul Broadhurst 3rd 1990
Greg Norman 2nd 1986*
Isao Aoki 3rd 1980
Mark Hayes 2nd 1977
Hiroshi Iwata 2nd 2015
Jason Dufner 2nd 2013*
Steve Stricker 1st 2011
Tiger Woods 2nd 2007
Thomas Bjorn 3rd 2005
Mark O’Meara 2nd 2001
Jose Maria Olazabal 3rd 2000
Brad Faxon 4th 1995
Michael Bradley 1st 1995
Vijay Singh 2nd 1993
Gary Player 2nd 1984
Ray Floyd 1st 1982*
Bruce Crampton 2nd 1975