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Scott stays in touch as Mickelson fades

Alex Perry at Royal Liverpool
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Adam Scott dealt with the tricky conditions well off the tee © Getty Images
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It is easy to look at Adam Scott's first-round score of 68 at the Open Championship and think that, had he been drawn for a morning tee time, he might well be leading.

The reality is, he battled the stronger winds well from tee to green, but the putter let him down.

Scott missed four very makeable birdie putts - three on the back nine - and was forced to settle for four-under par, the best score of the afternoon starters.

Phil Mickelson will have to go low on Friday to keep his title defence alive © AP
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While Rory McIlroy was tearing up Royal Liverpool in the benign conditions that welcomed the players in the morning, Scott was on the range watching the leaderboard as his rival slowly clawed his way to the top.

Even so, Scott made a run at the leaders, spurred by birdies at four and nine sandwiching an eagle at the fifth to go out in 31. But the world No.1 stuttered after the turn, and a run of two birdies and two bogeys from the 12th left him where he was nine holes previous.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson, who hasn't won since his 2013 victory at Muirfield, faded late in the day. A 74, including a bogey at 18 after his second shot sailed out of bounds, means he has it all to do if he wants to stay in the competition for the weekend.

"Obviously I think it sucks," Mickelson said. "This is the best I've hit it in over a year, I had as much control over the golf ball as I've had in a long time. Whether it was working cuts into the wind, draws into the wind, shots off the tee. And certainly the score sucks, but my game is as good as it's been in a long time."

But, as always, Lefty managed to find the positives among all his woes.

He added: "I remember back in '04 at Troon, I shot 74 the first day on pretty benign conditions, came out the next day and shot 66 and got right back in it. And I feel like I'm more on that side of the equation, than having another round over par because I just think the way I'm starting to hit it and the way I feel with the putter is just totally different."

Ernie Els really made a mess of things, the tone set when his very first shot struck a fan in the face. Clearly unsettled, the Big Easy missed a putt of less than a foot at the first, then sloppily whacked the ball with a backhanded swipe and missed again, making triple-bogey.

Two-time Open champion Els had previously hooked his opening tee shot into the crowd, hitting a 60-something unidentified spectator who required medical treatment and was taken to a local hospital.

"I was thinking about him," Els said. "There's blood all over, and I was quite rattled. It wasn't nice.

"I was kind of finished, and then started missing short putts. It was a nightmare. So I'd like to put it behind me. I just hope the gentleman feels better, because he looked really bad when I left him there."

Also spare a thought for Australian Bryden MacPherson, who struggled with the afternoon breeze and stumbled to an 18-over par 90 - a full 10 shots behind second-last Sandy Lyle.

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