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 that started it all. 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 and win the British Open.
'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 a 2-over 73 that threatened to extend his miserable British Open record.
On this day, he was aggressive from the first tee on, staying out of trouble to tie the best round of the Open with a 66 that left him four shots back with a weekend of golf to go.
'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 3-putted from 5 feet on the 71st hole of the U.S. Open.
When you're seven shots down after 18 holes, though, sometimes 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.'
Mickelson talked at the U.S. Open how when he was growing up he wanted to emulate Palmer. He remembers watching Palmer sign autographs for an hour and a half at the U.S. Open in 1994 for the volunteers.
'I thought that was what professional golf should be, the way professionals should handle themselves, the way he treated people with respect,' Mickelson said.
Palmer also did pretty well on the golf course, winning seven major titles, including two British Opens.
One of those came in 1962 at this same Royal Troon Golf Club. It came after Palmer had won the Masters and then finished second in the U.S. Open to Jack Nicklaus, and it came with a flourish.
Palmer trailed by two shots after the first round, then shot rounds of 69-67-69 to set an Open scoring record and win by six shots over Kel Nagle.
Mickelson, of course, won the Masters this year and finished second at the U.S. Open.
Could history repeat itself at Royal Troon?
'That's jumping ahead a little,' Mickelson said. 'I'm not thinking about winning just yet -- I'm four shots back of a lot of people. I may have to play another great round, and if I'm going to make up shots I've got to do it on the front nine.'
If he does, Mickelson may have the one link to Palmer that he really wants.
Like Palmer, he could have his name on the claret jug.
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