Newspaper article International New York Times

Skipping Protocol to Shoot for History ; Els Opted to Take His Putt First So Mickelson Could Try for a Round of 62

Newspaper article International New York Times

Skipping Protocol to Shoot for History ; Els Opted to Take His Putt First So Mickelson Could Try for a Round of 62

Article excerpt

Ernie Els decided to putt out of order on the 18th hole at the British Open so Phil Mickelson could focus before trying to record the lowest round in a major.

Walking down the 18th fairway in the first round of the 145th British Open, Ernie Els knew at once what he had to do and how important it was. Phil Mickelson, whom he was grouped with, had a golf ball just off the fairway and a shot at golf immortality.

If Mickelson could put the ball on the 18th green at Royal Troon and make a birdie putt -- both reasonable prospects, as Mickelson already had eight birdies -- he would become the first golfer to shoot a round of 62 in a major championship.

Els had been walking along fairways with Mickelson since 1984, when they competed in the 14-year-old division of a world junior championship. Across the subsequent decades, they had sparred for championships around the globe.

But this was different. Els saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity unfolding. Els, the South African known as the Big Easy, stepped closer to Mickelson.

"Come on, buddy," he said. "You've got to shoot 62. You can do it."

Mickelson smiled. In the middle of a fairway a couple of hundred yards from the Firth of Clyde on Scotland's western coast, two old rivals were united in a chase for golf history.

Mickelson ultimately missed the shot that would have made the record, but he kept the lead, and he continued his push for a second British Open title in a chilling rain on Friday morning, recording a two-under-par 69 to take the clubhouse lead at 10-under in the second round.

Unlike Thursday, when it was warm and the wind was little more than a soft breeze at Royal Troon, Friday was more in line with what is expected at the British Open: Many players teed off in raincoats and winter hats.

Mickelson followed up his blistering opening round of 63 with a steady, smart approach to this links course on the west coast of Scotland. Mickelson, whose last win came three years ago at the British Open at Muirfield, did not make his first bogey of the tournament until the 12th hole Friday.

Els did not fare as well, finishing the first round with a 71, and the second with a 76, making likely he'd miss the cut for continued play Saturday.

"We've shared our careers together," said Mickelson, who grew up in Southern California and, like Els, is 46. "We've competed against each other. We've pulled for each other."

As for that potentially historic moment Thursday, after assessing a good lie in the rough, Mickelson fired a crisp 6-iron on a line that was aimed right of the flag, an approach that gave him the flattest and best chance to make a birdie putt. His ball came to rest 18 feet from the hole.

"You've got to make it," Els said to Mickelson as they marched toward the green.

Lee Westwood of England, the third member of the group, was farthest from the hole and putted first. …

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