GULLANE, Scotland — Fresh off a Scottish Open victory, Phil Mickelson showed up at Muirfield for the first time in 11 years and didn’t take long to figure out his strategy for the British Open. He wants to keep it as simple as possible and try to make easy pars.
He didn’t take the easy route on the par-5 17th, however.
Mickelson couldn’t resist the temptation of the dunes right of the green. He placed the ball on the upward slope, even with the flag, and attempted his favorite trick shot — hitting a lob wedge that goes backward. With a full swing, the ball went up and over his head, landed on the green and stopped about 6 feet away.
But it was only Monday, a day of practice.
“It is fun to come in with a win, but now it’s time to focus on Muirfield and try to learn the nuances,” Mickelson said. “What I’m looking for is how to make easy pars, how to get the ball in the fairway easily, how to get it up and around the greens without a lot of stress, without having to hit perfect shots. Because imperfect shots will be magnified by the wind.”
Mickelson has not had much success in the Open. He finished one shot out of a playoff in 2004 at Royal Troon in what he considers his best week in the British Open. Two years ago, he made a Sunday charge that came up three shots short at Royal St. George’s.
He is trying to understand how to play the game on the ground, so typical of links golf, but he said Muirfield is a course that sometimes requires the ball to travel more in the air to cover some of the pot bunkers short of the green.
Mickelson finished toward the bottom of the pack in 2002 at Muirfield. He missed the nasty weather on Saturday that derailed so many other players, but failed to take advantage of the calm conditions and shot 76.
He tried to come down on Tuesday of last week for a practice round, but he didn’t make it. That means he will be spending more time playing the course than he does at other majors.
Take Merion, for example.
Mickelson did most of his preparations a week before the U.S. Open, so he had no trouble flying home across the country to San Diego for his daughter’s eighth-grade graduation and returning overnight in time for his Thursday morning tee time. He nearly won the U.S. Open.
At other majors, it’s not unusual for him to play one full practice round at the course and go elsewhere the rest of the week until the opening round. But he knows those courses. Muirfield requires getting reacquainted.
“This week I’ll spend more time on the golf course,” he said. “Being able to be here and have a few quiet days is good.”
His wife and three children were with him at Castle Stuart in the north of Scotland last week. They dropped him off Monday and headed to Barcelona for a few days until the championship begins.
Peter Hanson has been struggling with a sore back, and he’s still not sure if he’ll tee it up Thursday. The Swede said it was 50-50 he would play.The first alternate if he were to withdraw is Joost Luiten of The Netherlands. … Charles Howell III would have been the second alternate, but he withdrew from the Open on Sunday … Harris English was among those who flew over on the charter from the John Deere Classic. He looked tired, but still managed to get in nine holes of practice to stay awake.