Mickelson strikes form as Open hoves into view

 
Frank Dalleres
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WORLD No8 Phil Mickelson enjoyed a timely return to form yesterday as he prepares for next week’s assault on the Open, one of the two Majors still on his checklist.

The American shot a first-round 66 to leave him among a group tied for third on six under par at the Scottish Open, two adrift of John Parry and one behind another Englishman in Simon Khan.

Mickelson has warmly praised Castle Stuart as ideal preparation for the Open at Muirfield – another links course, albeit with different characteristics – yet is one of only two men in the top 25 playing this week.

The four-time Major winner has enjoyed a strong 2013, with five top-five finishes, including a title at the Waste Management Phoenix Open on the PGA Tour, but missed the cut at last week’s Greenbrier Classic.

“I’ve gotten off to poor starts the last couple of years here and I’ve been fighting just to make the cut,” he said. “Now I’m not having to battle up hill, I’m able to move up the leaderboard if I play well.”

Current Open champion Ernie Els, who is also the last man to lift the Claret Jug at Muirfield, shot a level-par round of 72, which included three bogeys inside the first nine holes.

“That wasn’t the score I was looking for,” said Els. “If you’re just a little bit off, this course will bite you.”

Defending champion Jeev Milkha Singh is among a group a further shot behind Mickelson.