British Open: Phil Mickelson's 62 bid stopped by the "golf gods"

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Phil Mickelson played brilliantly in the opening round of the Open Championship, but missed a putt for the first ever 62 in a major by the slimmest of margins.
By
Scott Michaux
The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.

Series: PGA

Published: Friday, July 15, 2016 | 8:04 a.m.

 

 

 

There are moments in golf that will make anyone a true believer in fate. The cruel turn his putt at history made on the final green a Royal Troon on Thursday converted Phil Mickelson.

"Do you believe in the golf gods?" Mickelson was asked after signing for the 28th 63 in major championship history.

"I didn't, but I do now," Mickelson said.

"It was obvious right there -- there's a curse because that ball should have been in. If there wasn't a curse, that ball would have been in and I would have had that 62."

If you haven't seen the highlight of Mickelson's lip-out birdie putt on the 18th hole, Google it. His ball traced a center-cut line until it was just inches from the cup, where it suddenly wobbled and turned back right and caught the edge of the hole. It made the slowest of rim rides before stopping directly behind the hole.

"Oh my god!" Mickelson said as he ran the full palm of his hand across his face in disbelief.

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"It was one of the best rounds I've ever played and I was able to take advantage of these conditions, and yet I want to shed a tear right now," Mickelson said later.

"I don't know how that putt didn't go in on 18," said Ernie Els, who actually putted out first like it was a Sunday and not Thursday to set the stage for Mickelson's historic attempt. "That would have been something."

Mickelson may be the most crestfallen person to ever shatter a course record and lead a major championship by three strokes.

"With a foot to go I thought I had done it," he said. "I saw that ball rolling right in 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 that ball lip out. It was -- wow -- that stings."

Mickelson joins a long list of greats left shaking their heads and fists at the golfing gods for their wicked vigilance. With all the technological advances in golf equipment over the last couple decades, it's amazing that nobody has been able to break the 63 threshold in a major. The "59 Watch" has become a fairly regular happening in pro tournaments, but 62 remains elusive.

Twenty-six different players have done it, including 14 Hall of Famers (counting the inevitable enshrinements of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy).

The greatest major champion of all time, Jack Nicklaus, needed only a 3-footer for birdie on the par-5 18th hole at Baltusrol in the 1980 U.S. Open to set the standard. Twenty-five years later, when he attended the 2005 PGA at Baltusrol, Nicklaus addressed his bygone miss.

"I'm still mad about it," he said.

Later that same day, Tom Wesikopf shot a 63 of his own, also failing to birdie the 18th.

Greg Norman three-putted the last hole at Turnberry in 1986 for a 63 in the second round. A decade later he became the first player to hit the mark twice with a 63 in the first round of a fateful Masters. Vijay Singh is the only other player with two major 63s (1993 PGA and 2003 U.S. Open).

McIlroy was the last person to do it in the British Open. In the first round at St. Andrews in 2010, he missed a 5-footer for birdie at the 17th, rendering his subsequent birdie at 18 into the 63 case files. He thought about the history on the Road Hole.

"That's probably why I missed," he said.

Mickelson, however, joins a very elite subset of 63 holders who suffered the lip-out on the last.

Johnny Miller was the first, when he set the 63 standard in the final round of the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont. He actually lipped out for birdie on the last two holes, his 20-footer on 18 catching a hard left edge to sling the ball out of the hole.

"It easily could have been 60," said his final-round playing partner Miller Barber.

Tiger Woods called his second-round 63 in the 2007 PGA at Southern Hills a "62-and-a-half" after his 15-footer went halfway down on the last hole before horseshoeing back at him.

"That would've been a nice little record to have," Woods said.

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Perhaps the most comparable near-miss to Mickelson's was Nick Price's in the third round at the 1986 Masters. His 30-footer on Augusta's 18th green all but disappeared into the hole, circling the entire lip before exiting where it started. It became the second most famous thing that happened that week.

"There does seem to be some kind of mental barrier at 63," Price said years later. "It's amazing that all four majors have 63 as the low score. That defies logic."

At 46, Mickelson is realistic about how rare that opportunity to create history is. This moment stung more than the similar lip-out on the last green in Phoenix a few years ago that cost him joining the official 59 club.

"This one's going to stay with me for a while because of the historical element of the major championships," Mickelson said. "There's a lot of guys that have shot 63, but nobody has shot that 62. That would have been really something special. ...

"I haven't shot 59 in a tour event, but I have shot 58s and 59s before at other rounds. That 59 in Hawaii for the Grand Slam of Golf back in like '05, I've done that, and I'll have opportunities under the right conditions. But the opportunity to shoot 62 and be the first one to do it, I just don't think that's going to come around again. And that's why I walk away so disappointed."

Now the big test for Mickelson is to not let the disappointment of not making history keep him from hanging on to win his sixth career major. Only five players who have shot major 63s have also won the tournament. Typically nasty British weather is expected to roll in today, so any more chances at 62 will likely have to wait for the next major.

Even if he hoists another claret jug this week, Mickelson will look back years from now like Nicklaus at Baltusrol and still be mad about it. Even talking about happier end results like the putt that curled into the cup for his first major win at Augusta wasn't a tonic Thursday.

"If you're trying to make me feel better after the heartbreak of having missed that ... that's nice of you, thank you. But that's not working."

This article was written by Scott Michaux from The Augusta Chronicle, Ga. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.