By Jeff Babineau, Golfweek

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- There are some things in life that are just plain difficult to explain. Like why some parents with dark hair bear blonde-haired children. Like why pitcher Mariano Rivera is so unhittable. Like why those flying swallows don’t take one summer and visit a destination other than Capistrano.

Rory McIlroy spent roughly half his Friday at the 141st Open Championship immersed in some of Royal Lytham’s 205 bunkers, so when he sighed and declared it “just one of those days,” everyone within earshot knew exactly what he meant. Ditto Phil Mickelson. Having chopped his way around in 78 strokes, his highest score in relation to par at this tournament since the Carnoustie craziness of 1999, Mickelson threw his hands up in surrender and didn’t really know what to say.

Thus, about 8-10 times mere minutes after he finished, Mickelson would ponder his growing summer woes, pause, and state, “I don’t know what to say right now.”
Strangely enough, we understand. Outside of American Brandt Snedeker (64) blistering the storied links at Lytham Friday, mostly with his red-hot putter, not many of the 156 players could sustain success at Royal Lytham. It was difficult to pinpoint why, exactly, that was. Yes, the course was tricky. Yes, there was the standing water in several bunkers. Sure, some hole locations were difficult to access. And though the early northwest winds never did dial up to typical Open strength, they blew in from a direction that was opposite a day earlier.

“It felt like every hole we played was into the wind,” McIlroy said.

A day after jumping out to a promising start with 67, McIlroy shot 75, hovering near the potential cut line down the homestretch. Thursday, he’d had but one blemish on his card; a day later, he was loose and all over the place. He made five bogeys and tacked on a double at the par-3 ninth when it required two swipes to escape one of the five bunkers he found.

He said the ninth was a turning point, and not for the good. “I couldn’t really recover from that,” he admitted.

He could have, of course, but he did not, making three bogeys and needing 39 strokes on the way in. The darling of last summer’s U.S. Open at Congressional, where he blitzed the field by eight, McIlroy has struggled in trying to land a second major. In four major starts since Congressional, he has yet to finish better than T-25; at the U.S. Open at Olympic, he didn’t make the cut.

“It’s tough when you’re trying to get something going and it’s just not quite happening,” McIlroy said. He was speaking about Friday, but it seemed applicable to a bigger picture. “You’re just sort of trying to force it a little bit.”

STORY CONTINUES BELOW

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  • Rory McIlroy

    Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland watches his shot off the fifth tee at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Francesco Molinari

    Francesco Molinari of Italy plays a shot off the second tee at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Hunter Mahan

    Hunter Mahan of the United States plays a shot off the fifth tee at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Bo Van Pelt

    Bo Van Pelt of the United States plays a shot off the second tee at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • British Open

    Spectators, some with Spanish flags, stand next to the fourth 4th green at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Nicolas Colsaerts

    Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium lines up a shot on the fourth green at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Rory McIlroy

    Spectators watch Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland on the fourth green as a boy with binoculars watches the opposite direction at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Rory McIlroy

    Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays a shot off the fourth tee at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Rory McIlroy

    Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays out of the rough on the second fairway at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Rory McIlroy

    Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland chips onto the third green from the fourth tee box at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Rory McIlroy

    Phil Mickelson of the United States plays out of the bunker on the first hole at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Rory McIlroy

    Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays a shot off the 11th tee at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • British Open

    A pheasant walks across the sixth fairway at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Luke Donald

    Luke Donald of England reacts after putting on the fourth green at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Phil Mickelson

    Phil Mickelson of the United States plays a shot on the fourth hole at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Phil Mickelson

    Phil Mickelson of the United States and his caddie Jim Mackay line up a shot on the fourth hole at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Phil Mickelson

    Phil Mickelson of the United States reacts after his shot off the fourth tee at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Rory McIlroy

    Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland walks along the 12th fairway at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Rickie Fowler

    Rickie Fowler of the United States lines up a putt on the 12th green at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Rory McIlroy

    Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays out of a bunker at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Rory McIlroy

    Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays a shot off the ninth tee at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Rory McIlroy

    Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland walks to the 11th tee at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Rickie Fowler

    Rickie Fowler of the United States prepares to putt on the 12th green at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States plays a shot off the first tee at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • John Daly

    John Daly of the United States plays a shot off the fifth tee at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States reacts after playing the second hole at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States prepares to putt on the second green at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States plays a shot off the fourth tee at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States prepares to putt on the second green at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Bubba Watson of the United States plays a shot from the fifth tee at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States gestures after putting on the fourth green at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States plays a shot off the fifth tee at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States reacts after putting on the third green at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States plays a shot on the 10th hole at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States plays a shot onto the seventh green at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States reacts after a birdie on the sixth hole at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Adam Scott

    Adam Scott of Australia lines up a putt on the sixth green at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States prepares to putt on the 12th green at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States looks at his chip shot on the 14th green at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States reacts on the 12th green at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States walks to the 11th tee at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States plays a shot off the 11th tee at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States reacts after a birdie on the 18th hole at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States celebrates a birdie on the 18th hole with his caddie Joe LaCava at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States reacts after a birdie on the 18th hole at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States reacts after a birdie on the 18th hole at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States plays a shot on the 16th hole at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States walks on after playing a shot off the 11th tee at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods of the United States watches his chip shot out of the bunker on the 18th green to go on to drop into the hole at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the second round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Friday, July 20, 2012.


Mickelson, who began his day at 3 over and needed to play well just to make the cut, said he hit the ball more solidly than he had a day earlier, but he struggled to get anything out of his round. When he doubled the par-4 13th and then tacked on another double at 14, where he had to play out backwards from a greenside bunker, his fate was sealed.

“I felt I was going to have a little better round than I did,” said Mickelson, who’d worked late into the evening Thursday with instructor Butch Harmon to address a few flaws, including his ball position. In two days, he hit only 12 fairways and 15/36 greens. “It (the round) certainly got away from me the last five holes. I don’t know what to say.”

There, he said it again. Mickelson’s dossier at this championship is quite pedestrian (only two top 10s in 18 previous starts), but he usually works the weekend. This was his only his second missed cut at the Open since 1999. In fact, Mickelson had made the cut in each of his last 18 major championship starts. South African Charles Schwartzel was the only other player who’d survived the cut in each of the last 11 majors consecutively. (Mickelson did not play the 2009 Open at Turnberry.)

Next stop for Mickelson will be the WGC-Bridgestone in Akron in two weeks. There’s a good deal of work to do before then if he is to emerge from his post-Masters funk.

“I’ll work with Butch here in the next week and see if I can get some direction, and see if I can get into a little better play heading into these next two months, because we have some big tournaments,” he said.

As for McIlroy, he’ll have two more days at Lytham to right his game.

Quick story: Thursday, McIlroy struck a fan named Jason Blue in the head with an errant drive at the 15th hole, the ball bounding out of bounds. Later in the day, McIlroy and his management team were able to get in touch with the 16-year-old from Bristol and move Blue from his damp tent accommodations into the cozy comforts of a nearby hotel. McIlroy even peeled off 100 pounds and change for young Blue and his buddy to enjoy a nice meal.

“Nice touch,” said McIlroy’s manager, Conor Ridge.

Explained McIlroy, “It was the least I could do. If someone gave me a big hole in my head, I wouldn’t be too happy.”

Before he headed to the practice tee Friday, McIlroy met with the smiling lad, posed for some pictures, and wished him well. “Are you here for the weekend?” McIlroy asked Blue. Blue said he was. “Then enjoy the next couple of days.”

McIlroy hopes he can do the same. And Mickelson wishes he’d had the opportunity.