Gravity brings down Mickelson's record bid, but leaves his ball untouched


Of all the natural forces that a golfer might expect to contend with at Royal Troon, you would have thought at least gravity would prove a predictable enemy.

Yet come the first day of the 145th Open Championship, it was not the capricious breeze nor the unrelenting rain that reared its ugly head. No, those unwanted guests had the decency to stay away.

But gravity, for once, failed in its duty. You see, a ball that circles a cup, losing speed, hovering more than half over its edge, should drop. If it had done so for Phil Mickelson on the 18th, he would have made history.

He would have carded the lowest score in majors. A 62. 

A man who shoots eight-under par and sits three shots clear at golf's oldest major has earned himself a good night's sleep, but who could blame Big Phil for being kept awake, playing that putt over in his mind?

He read it perfectly. He had the line. He had the length. He had his name in the record books. Surely?

"That's going to sting for a while," he conceded afterwards.

Until then, Troon had been on its best behaviour.

The clouds, which had stubbornly refused to move for most of the week leading up to it, parted and allowed the sun to bathe its verdant contours in a warm glow.

Even the wind, so vicious and biting when in the mood, seemed hesitant to introduce itself now that the world was watching.

It made for a pleasant day for spectators and players alike, handing the field a chance to aim high and shoot low.

The Americans, as ever at this course when golf's oldest major rolls into town, accepted the invitation with glee, and none more so than Mickelson, who didn't drop a shot.

Lefty was not the only man to reach the turn in good shape - indeed, the front nine was dishing out birdies to anyone with the good sense to hold their hands out and take them.

But the back nine was a whole different story for almost everyone but the five-time major winner, who followed an outward-bound 32 with a stunning 31 on the way back in.

If his golf ball had not defied the laws of physics at the last, it would have been even better.

For most, though, the homeward stretch took promising scorecards, tore them up and scattered them to the winds - mild though they may have been - of the South Ayrshire coast.

It was at the 11th - the famed par-four Railway Hole - that the most damage was done, with a handful of birdies doing nothing to hide the plethora of dropped shots.

And the worst is yet to come.

Friday's forecast is bleak. The rain is coming. The wind, though still not at full strength, will make its presence felt.

Rory McIlroy, who shot 69, said he played in the knowledge that Thursday was the day when any serious contender had to make hay while the sun shone.

Round two will ask a big question of each player - is this a case of damage limitation, or does fortune favour the brave?

Colin Montgomerie, who teed off the tournament in the early hours, warned the course was yet to show its teeth. When it does, he said, it will be a case of "holding on".

Mickelson has something to hold onto, a lead of three strokes. He will wake to find a very different Troon test awaiting him in the second round.

His opening 63 was remarkable, to repeat the feat on Friday - if the weather does as it threatens to do - would be something closer to a miracle. But he's already witnessed one of those.