Sweden’s Henrik Stenson won his first major championship yesterday as he carded an eight-under-par final round of 63 to win the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon.
The 40-year-old beat Phil Mickelson by three strokes as the pair finished on 20-under-par and 17-under-par respectively, with third placed JB Holmes finished way back on six-under.
Mickelson, 46, who won the Open Championship in 2013 by beating runner-up Stenson by three strokes, had led after the first round on Thursday. The American carded a bogey-free joint-record round of 63, just falling short of a first 62 round in Open history, to leave him on eight-under-par, three clear of his nearest challengers, Martin Kaymer and Patrick Reed. Stenson, meanwhile, finished the first round on three-under-par.
After getting the better weather on Thursday, Mickelson was fortunate on Friday to play during the best of the weather again, allowing him to card another under-par round of 69, putting him on 10-under-par. Stenson, meanwhile, also benefitted from an early tee-time on Friday as he scored a six-under-par 65 to place him in second behind Mickelson at the half-way stage.
The cut was four-over-par which meant that Jordan Speith, Bubba Watson and Masters champion Danny Willet continued into the weekend by the skin of their teeth. However, none of these players were able to take advantage of this as all remained over par for the duration of the tournament.
In truth, the tournament was about two players: Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson. Paired together for the third round on Saturday as the top two, the duel commenced on Saturday afternoon in more difficult, windy conditions on the links course.
Despite Mickelson carding a one-under-par 70 on Saturday, this was not enough to retain the lead into the final day as the Swede Stenson scored an impressive 68 to take a one-shot lead into what would be a truly remarkable final round of the 2016 Open Championship.
Starting the round on 12-under-par, Stenson made the worst start possible with a bogey on the first hole, whilst Mickelson birdied the same hold to take the outright lead. There was, though, a very, very long way to go.
Stenson responded with three straight birdies, taking him to 14-under-par, meanwhile Mickelson made two pars followed by a sensational eagle on the par 5 fourth hole.
The pair continued to do battle throughout the round, with the lead constantly switching between the two, who had left the rest of the field in their wake. The battle was reminiscent of the ‘Duel in the Sun’ between Jack Nicklaus and winner Tom Watson in the 1977 Open Championship at Turnberry, with two quality golfers locking horns in one of the greatest major championships in living memory.
With both players playing some unbelievably high-class golf, it was disappointing knowing that one would end the day without winning as both truly deserved the title. Despite making a bogey on the difficult par 4 11th, Stenson remained in control as he made 89% of greens in regulation, compared to just 50% in Round 3, and three successive birdies on the 14th, 15th and 16th took him to 19-under-par with two holes to play.
Mickelson, though, was not going to give up without a fight and continued to push Stenson the whole way, also birdying the 16th to go to 17-under-par, two strokes behind Stenson. On the par 3 17th, Mickelson went left from the tee whilst Stenson found the middle of the green. But Mickelson, being the great player that he is, managed to salvage a par with a terrific putt, whilst Stenson failed to convert his birdie opportunity meaning that the pair entered the last with Stenson holding a two-shot lead.
Stenson used his trusty 3-Wood and drove the ball over 300 yards, with it landing perilously short of the deep bunker on the right of the fairway. Mickelson, meanwhile, found the middle of the fairway and was caught on the microphone declaring his ambition to play a shot to win rather than play safe and finish second.
Unfortunately for the American, his iron shot onto the green was good but not good enough to set up a realistic birdie chance, meaning that Stenson knew a safe shot onto the green would surely be enough. Mickelson two-putted to card a fantastic, bogey-free round of 65, usually more than enough to be victorious.
But Stenson had played the round of his life and sealed the victory with an incredible birdie putt to finish with four birdies on the last five holes and record a spectacular eight-under-par final round, thus finishing on 20-under-par, an Open Championship record.
Despite Mickelson’s popularity, the Royal Troon spectators appreciated the achievement and performance of the victorious Swede as both players received rapturous applause both as they walked towards the 18th green, with Mickelson halting to allow Stenson to take the lead, as well as when they were presented with their respective trophies.
“I had to play at my best to get it over the finish line,” said Stenson as he was presented with the famous Claret Jug, before dedicating the victory to his friend who sadly passed away on Wednesday. “I lost a dear friend on Wednesday morning in the United States from cancer and I feel like he has been with me all week, Mike this one is for you.”
With just a short turnaround before the US PGA Championship at the end of the month, Stenson and the rest of the golfing world will not have long to wait before having another crack at winning a major championship. For Stenson, he will be hoping to win back-to-back majors, whilst the rest of the field will be hoping to wrestle the crown away from last year’s winner and world number one, Australian Jason Day.