Phil Mickelson insisted there was still plenty of work to do if he is to win a second Open Championship on Sunday as appeared set to take the halfway lead into the weekend at Royal Troon,.
The five-time major champion who won The Open at Muirfield in 2013 said thoughts of lifting the Claret Jug for a second time were still a way off as he saw his three-shot first-round lead cut to one by Henrik Stenson as the morning wave of starters completed their second rounds on Friday.
Mickelson had shot an opening 63, eight under par, on Thursday, a lipped-out putt at the last denying him a 62 and the record low round in major championships.
That was in benign conditions but returning to the course on Friday morning, the American left-hander was among the early starters met with some heavy rain as the Ayrshire links began to show its teeth at last.
Mickelson carded what he described as a “stress free” two-under 69 to reach 10 under par, just one ahead of Sweden's Stenson, the world number six who posted a second-round 65 to reach nine under. Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen and American duo Keegan Bradley and defending champion Zach Johnson are a further stroke behind the leader.
With half the field, including Rory McIlroy, still out on the course as the morning rains gave way to strong, gusting winds in the afternoon, Mickelson is experienced enough at the age of 46 to know there is lots of golf yet in this championship before thoughts turn to victory.
“It's a little too far off. We've got a lot of work to do,” Mickelson said. “We're only halfway done with the tournament. So it's too far off to start thinking like that, but certainly there is nothing more that I would love to add another Claret Jug, but I think there is a lot of pressure off me given the fact that I've already got one.”
With McIlroy one under for his second round after a birdie at the par-four second, the Irishman had closed the deficit on Mickelson to seven shots at three under par after three holes. Padraig Harrington was a further shot in arrears, remaining at his overnight mark of one under after a bogey at the first and birdie at the fourth.
Darren Clarke was level par for the day and tournament having played 11 holes while the projected cut of one over was looking out of reach for Paul Dunne, 10 over after six holes, and Graeme McDowell, who recovered from an opening 75 with a one-under 71. That left him at four over but it could have been so much better after a bogey-free four-under front nine 32. The Portrush golfer came home in 39, though, bogeying the 10th and 17th with a double bogey at 15 thrown in.
“Disappointing because I actually hit the golf ball well the last couple of days,” McDowell said. “Putted ridiculously bad yesterday. I thought the greens were decidedly average especially yesterday afternoon. I just didn't think they putted well at all.
“A bit better this morning. But obviously they're not cutting them down because of the wind strength forecast in the weekend and they're not rolling very well, to be honest. But guys out there are getting it done, so that's just sour grapes on my part. A guy like me who relies on his putter, not getting decent surfaces to roll on is disappointing.
“The way I struck the ball the last two days should have been thereabouts, but not to be.”