TROON, Scotland — One hole on this blustery, chilly Saturday and the leader became the chaser, the hunted the hunter. For the first time in the 145th British Open, the man in front when the final putt was holed was not Phil Mickelson.
First place after 54 holes belongs to Henrik Stenson, who at 40 probably is nearer his first major championship than anytime in his career, having swept from one stroke behind to one in front on the 220-yard par-3 17th that like most of the back nine at Royal Troon played into a wind that at times gusted above 25 mph.
Stenson hit a beautiful 3-iron some 10 feet from the pin and made a birdie 2. Mickelson missed the green and made bogey 4. Like that, Stenson went from a cumulative 11 under par to 12, and Mickelson went from 12 to 11.
That’s the way they ended up after pars at 18, Stenson shooting a 3-under 68 for a 201 total, Mickelson a 1-under 70 for 202. After jumping ahead Thursday with the Open and major championship record-tying 63, Mickelson finds himself behind.
“I was off today,” said Mickelson, who at 46 is attempting to become the oldest Open winner since 1867. “I didn’t have my best stuff. My rhythm was a little quick from the top as we started downwind. I was a little bit jumpy. Today could have been a day that got away from me. Instead I shot 1 under par and kept myself right in heading into [Sunday’s] round.”
After three rounds, the Open in effect is down to two men, Stenson and Mickelson. Billy Haas had a 69 for 207 and is third; Andrew Johnston of England is next at 70, 208, followed by J.B. Holmes 69, 209 and Steve Stricker (68) is one of those at 210.
Of the Big Four, the lineup is this way: Rory McIlroy 76, 211; Dustin Johnson 72, 212; Jason Day 71, 214; Jordan Spieth 72, 218.
Mickelson and Stenson will be paired in the last twosome Sunday, as they were Saturday. Mickelson said he will not treat it as match play. Stenson, who was second to Mickelson in the 2013 Open at Muirfield, said he would approach the final round somewhat as match play — head to head — as well as use his planned strategy.
Mickelson has gone about things conservatively, which is against his nature. It was here at Troon in 2004 he said he finally learned the nuances of links land golf.
“I tried to play a little bit more aggressive down the downwind holes,” Mickelson said. “That’s when I started to get jumpy and anxious. That’s not how I play my best. Sometimes it’s better not to be aggressive. I think it potentially cost me a couple of shots, like on the par-5s, four and six, trying to get the ball down there too far.”
“The game of golf comes and goes,” said Mickelson, who has won five majors. “Most important is to find a way to get the ball in the hole.”
“The key moment,” Stenson said of his round, “was 10. I make a 35-footer for par to stay in the ballgame.”
Of playing with Mickelson again Sunday, Stenson said: “I’ve played a lot with Phil, especially this year. We played together at the Masters. We played together at the U.S. Open. So I feel like he’s my playing partner. I enjoy his company.”