TROON, SCOTLAND — Phil Mickelson on Thursday came within about a half of a golf ball from major championship immortality.
The five-time major winner had a 16-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole of the British Open at Royal Troon to record the first score of 62 in the history of majors. His ball was dead on line to roll into the cup, but at the very end caught the right edge and spun slowly out, hanging on the lip.
The 46-year-old put his hands to his face and said, "Oh my god." His caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay, fell backward to the ground in disbelief.
Mickelson shot 32-31 for the 8-under-par 63 that put him into the lead by three shots over the previous clubhouse leader, Patrick Reed.
"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. That putt on 18 was an opportunity to do something historical. I knew it, and with a foot to go I thought I had done it. 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."
Now 28 players in the history of majors have shot 63, though not all of them had a putt for 62.
"Well, it's obvious right there, there's a curse because that ball should have been in," Mickelson said to laughter. "If there wasn't a curse, that ball would have been in and I would have had that 62."
He was asked if believed in the golf gods.
"I didn't, but I do now," Mickelson said with a grin.
Mickelson was one of several Americans to dominate the first round at Royal Troon, a course at which U.S. golfers have won the last six British Opens.
Reed shot 5-under-par 66, and three others from the U.S. recorded 67s – Justin Thomas, Steve Stricker and Billy Horschel.
With heavy rain expected on Friday, the weather on the seaside links course was gorgeous, bathed in bright sunshine. The scoring conditions were ideal. The wind was light and the course was playing soft because of rain earlier in the week.
Reed, a 25-year-old, four-time PGA Tour winner who professes to love links golf, took advantage of his early tee time. His round including holing out his second shot from the fairway at the third hole for an eagle. Reed capped the round with a birdie at 18.
"To come over here and see the sun, I felt like today was a lot easier than what I've had to deal with all last week (at the Scottish Open)," Reed said. "So it kind of allowed me to be a little more aggressive on lines with iron shots into the greens, because I wasn't trying to play too much of wind or trying to really shape a ball or trying to hole it into things because really the wind was only blowing 5 of 10 (mph) out there today."
Thomas, a 23-year-old playing in his first Open, roared to a 31 on his front nine, but ran into trouble on the par-4 15th and made a double-bogey.
Stricker, the 49-year-old who is playing in his 14th Open, birdied three of his last five holes.
Among the higher-ranked players who had finished, Rory McIlroy posted the best score with a 2-under 69. Jordan Spieth finished at even par, and world No. 1 Jason Day struggled to a 2-over 73.