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Phil Mickelson and the history of 63

By Brendan Porath
Published on

"We see all these highlights and yet I feel like crying." Leave it to Phil Mickelson to walk off "heartbroken" over a record-matching round at a major championship.

In this season of the runaway "Big Three" narrative and all the hype surrounding a new ascendant generation of talents, it was nice to have Phil Mickelson make a run at history and become the main attraction again on the top of the leaderboard at a major championship. In a Mickelsonian twist, however, the 2013 Open winner walked off Royal Troon crushed having just shot a major championship record matching round of 63. That's because Phil was robbed on the 18th green of the first ever 62, when he put his ball in the heart only to watch it lip around the cup and taunt him.

 

Mickelson becomes the ninth player to post a 63 in The Open and the 28th player across all four majors with a 63. The record just won't fall despite almost annual threats each summer. That final taunt withstanding, this was still one of the more memorable rounds ever from the now 46-year-old Mickelson.

After the "Big Three" all went out in one cluster in the morning wave at The Open, there was Mickelson owning the afternoon broadcast and lighting up the Royal Troon crowd. We thought that Dustin Johnson, the hottest player in the world and the favorite this week in Scotland, would be the focus of the day 1 afternoon broadcast. But it was Mickelson, pouring in putts from distance, escaping from these Open pot bunkers, and working the ball around Troon in a show that stole the opening round.

The first nine was supposed to be easy. That's where you make your birdie run, and you lose all hope of making a big move up the leaderboard if you squander those chances. Troon was especially gettable on Thursday, with perfect sunshine and minimal wind over a course that was already softened by an excessively rainy July. There were birdies everywhere, particularly on those shorter, easy opening seven holes. Just because they're easy, however, doesn't mean Phil will always make it so. Part of his reputation is making things difficult at the most unexpected times, but Mickelson went though the front nine in a tidy 4-under 32.

That's fine -- several players were posting that kind of number on the opening nine, however, then it was supposed to get challenging. Only Mickelson kept it clean the whole way, not only avoiding bogey, but then starting to pour in birdies from 20 feet to make a move towards history. At the 16th hole, it looked like his back nine bogey-free run might come to a close when he found a challenging spot in a pot bunker. Mickelson, perhaps the greatest sand player of all time, popped it out and within range to convert yet another birdie putt.

FULL: Leaderboard from the 145th Open Championship

Phil drained another lengthy putt at the 17th, setting up one final attempt at breaking what has seemed like an unbreakable record. There has been close call after close call since Johnny Miller posted that first 63 back in 1973. A total of 27 players have posted 63 since, but no one could get over the hump. It's an annual watch at one of the majors -- we think this is finally the time, only to have a challenger relent in the closing holes. This was the closest -- a millimeter -- that anyone has come.

After narrowly missing an 18th fairway pot bunker with a tee shot that leaked right, Mickelson took advantage of the fortunate bounce and gave himself a chance with the 15-foot putt on the final green. We waited forever. As if this were the final group on Sunday, Ernie Els putted out on a Thursday to set the stage for Phil. There have been many random fleeting players who have made a run at the record, but a hall-of-famer finally breaking it seemed fitting. But what we were left with is just a three-shot Mickelson lead after his opening 18 holes.

This article was written by Brendan Porath from SB Nation and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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