TROON, Scotland - Phil Mickelson stood on the first tee Friday seven shots back and in danger of missing the cut at the British Open. Arnold Palmer is his role model, and Mickelson needed a Palmer-like charge - fast.
The day before he had hit 3-wood and missed the fairway badly. Now there was no choice - the driver was coming out of the bag no matter what trouble lay ahead.
Mickelson banged the ball down the fairway, pitched it on and made the birdie putt. A few hours later, his smile seemingly frozen on his face, Lefty was back in contention.
Now he can only hope he draws one more parallel to Palmer before the weekend is over.
"I thought a good solid round and I would get back in contention," Mickelson said. "Three or four under par would be a round that wouldn't be overly difficult, but to shoot five or six, I'd have to do something a little extraordinary."
Mickelson's round was a bit extraordinary, especially after he opened with 2-over-par 73, which threatened to extend his miserable British Open record.
On Friday, he was aggressive from the first tee, staying out of trouble to tie the best round of the tournament with a 66 that left him four shots back.
"What changed was I executed better," Mickelson said. "Yesterday I came out of a couple of shots. I was a little tentative and didn't play the birdie holes aggressively - I played for pars too much."
Palmer, of course, never played for pars. Neither did Mickelson for much of his career, before deciding over the offseason that sometimes it was better to lay up once in awhile and not always to try flop wedge shots around the greens.
That strategy paid off with a breakthrough win at Augusta, and nearly won Mickelson his second major last month at Shinnecock Hills before he three-putted from 5 feet on the 71st hole of the U.S. Open.
When you're seven shots down after 18 holes, though, the strategy needs to change.
Mickelson came out firing at pins, making birdies on four of the first six holes on the down wind front nine at Royal Troon, where birdies are often available. He then held on on the more difficult holes coming in, parring the rest of the way before adding a final birdie at the par-5 16th.
"It was a wonderful round," said Mickelson, who has never finished better than 11th in 11 British Opens. "I was very pleased the way I got off to a quick start. You have to make birdies on the first nine holes here and I made it on four of them and then hung on on the back."
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