Els considers Mickelson one of Open favorites


GULLANE, Scotland – Count Ernie Els among those who wonder how an imaginative player like Phil Mickelson hasn’t fared better at the major that requires the most creativity.

The narrative seems to have shifted, however, now that Lefty won last week’s Scottish Open, which was played at firm-and-fast Castle Stuart.

“Phil seems like he’s comfortable after so many years,” Els said.

In fact, the two-time Open champion said Monday that Mickelson has to be considered one of the favorites this week at Muirfield, a thought that would have seemed unfathomable a decade ago.

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“He’s such a talented player with his short game, it’s amazing he hasn’t done better,” Els said. “But getting used to the bounces, that’s the big thing. I think he’s got as good a chance as any. He’s got a bit of confidence now that he’s won. He’s obviously one of the favorites now.”

For his part, Mickelson said after his victory Sunday that the Open has proved the “biggest challenge of my career.” Putting on fescue greens. Playing strategically and intelligently. Controlling his ball flight in the crosswinds. More than anything, though, the Open requires Mickelson adapting his swing-from-the-heels game, and he has just two top 10s in 17 career starts at the year’s third major.

“That would be the biggest accomplishment of my career if I were able to do it,” Mickelson said.