• Open Championship

Mickelson keeps title defence alive

Alex Perry at Royal Liverpool
July 18, 2014
Phil Mickelson never makes it easy on himself but he is always there or thereabouts © Getty Images

Phil Mickelson carded a two-under 70 on a blustery day at Royal Liverpool to get back to even par for the Open Championship before declaring "I am absolutely still in this tournament".

With the halfway cut looking to fall at two-over par, where Mickelson started the day, a bogey at three left the reigning champion with an uphill climb to continue his title defence into the weekend.

Mickelson was back to even par two holes later, thanks to a birdie at four and eagle at the par-5 fifth, but a bogey at eight halted the charge. A much steadier back nine kicked off with a stunning up-and-down from more than 200 yards to save par having lost a ball.

And he was at it again at 18 when he found the grandstand before a stunning flop shot left a six-foot birdie putt - which he crushed in the centre of the hole and had the fans on their feet.

"If the wind stays up, I am absolutely still in this tournament," he said. "But I have a feeling that the conditions are supposed to get softer this afternoon. And if that's the case, I'll be quite a ways back.

"But tomorrow when the conditions come in, there's going to be a lot of scores that go five, six, seven-over par. If I can shoot something under par, I'll be right in it for Sunday."

Also well within touching distance of the leaders is Justin Rose, whose chip-in for eagle at the par-5 10th was the highlight of a two-under round 70 to add to Thursday's 72.

Rose burst onto the golf scene as an 18-year-old amateur when he holed a 50-yard pitch at Birkdale in 1998, and was at it again in Hoylake - much to the delight of the home support.

Rose, who had previously birdied the par-3 ninth, said: "If I do go onto win, that little stretch there would be a turning point, for sure.

"But what it's done right now is give me an opportunity to go into the weekend."

Birthday boy George Coetzee made light work of the tricky conditions © Getty Images

Adam Scott, playing with Rose, started the day at four-under par but had fallen back to one-under by the time he had reached the 17th. Back-to-back birdies at 18 saved the Australian.

"There were some ups and downs," he admitted. "But it was really, really important to finish with a couple of birdies and put me in good shape for the weekend."

But the honour of Friday's morning starters belonged to South African George Coetzee. After a level par front nine, Coetzee, celebrating his 28th birthday, birdied 10, 13, 14 and 15 to join overnight leader Rory McIlroy at six-under par, before back-to-back bogeys were followed by one last gain at the last.

It left Coetzee one off the pace and pretty excited about celebrating his birthday with "a couple of Cokes" with friends and family.

He added: "This is probably definitely my favourite major [as] it always falls on my birthday week."

When asked at what point he looked at the leaderboard to see he was top, he replied: "I think it's obvious … I bogeyed the next two holes!

"But it was quite a good feeling to look at my name and be at the top of the leaderboard. Obviously six-under was a hell of a score yesterday. And I didn't think it was doable today to get to that number, but when I made birdie on 13 I thought I was pretty close.

"It's nice to play well in a very prestigious event."

Follow Alex Perry on Twitter from Royal Liverpool at @AlexPerryESPN

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd