The major championships rarely fail to deliver quality golf and drama. But what happened on Sunday at Royal Troon as the 145th Open Championship was beyond compare.
It really was golf at its finest – two of the finest exponents of the game playing at their best. What Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson produced was golf’s version of the 2008 Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It was simply unforgettable.
The two men started the final round well ahead of the field – Stenson was 12-under par, Mickelson 11-under and Bill Haas third at six-under. When they finished, Stenson was at 20-under par after breaking all kinds of records with a final-round eight-under par 63, Mickelson was 17-under par and third- placed JB Holmes was a whopping 11 shots adrift of the runner-up.
As we have done in the past after every major, here is our report card of some of the stars at the Open Championship last week…
We would have really loved to give him a 12 – one extra mark for the awesome final round, which included four birdies over the last five holes at a time when the pressure of a major championship is most intense, and one extra mark for his amazing tribute to the late Mike Gerbich, his friend in Dubai for many years.
Before the tournament, the 40-year-old Swede spoke about how he has limited time to become the first major champion from his country. Five days later, he obliterated almost every possible scoring record to ensure he moves out of the dubious list of ‘best golfers never to win majors’.
The morning after the night before...https://t.co/vMcVL9ChtX— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) July 18, 2016
It was a typical Stenson effort – solid off the tee, absolutely amazing with his iron shots, and then immaculate on the greens.
After being winless since the 2014 DP World Tour Champion- ship, Stenson has now got two titles in last three starts. We all know how he can go on sustained run of form (remember 2013 when he was on fire on both sides of the Atlantic?). Signs are ominous for next week’s PGA Championship, and he is surely the early favourite.
Let’s just say in 99 per cent of cases when you shoot 17-under par in a major championship, you end up winning the tournament by a handful of shots. Not at Royal Troon though. The American did everything right but was finally denied by the brilliance of Stenson in the end.
We gave Mickelson 10 because you cannot find any fault in his play over the four days. He made very few mistakes despite the sometimes brutal conditions (only four bogeys as against 20 birdies and an eagle), he also was the epitome of sportsmanship spirit.
Phil Mickelson is really good and really unlucky. pic.twitter.com/tTzYPkbv9w— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 19, 2016
He started with real intent on each day, but Royal Troon got to the world No. 1 Aussie from the Postage Stamp hole onwards. For the first three days, Day made just one birdie on the last 11 holes.
In all, he was eight-under par for the first seven holes for all four days, and nine-over for the rest of the golf course. Tied 22nd finish once again showed that he is not yet comfortable on links courses.
Another superstar who got caught at the wrong end of the draw, but the world No. 4 did extremely well to battle to a two-under par score at the halfway mark.
He was undone by a 73 on day three, when he did hit the ball superbly off the tee, but struggled on an around the green. Despite all his troubles, he closed with a 67 and finished tied fifth at four-under par.
Round of the day so far?— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 17, 2016
Rory McIlroy's 67.
He's T5. pic.twitter.com/9PY3ktT808
The two-time major champion was lucky to make the cut on the number (four-over par), and his only saving grace the whole week was the closing round of 68.
Just like Day, he too struggled from the eighth hole of Royal Troon onwards. Except for the last round, in which he made birdies on the 10th and 11th, Spieth was nine-over for the last 11 holes in the four rounds. The American’s biggest strength is his putting, but that deserted him at least on the first three days.
With momentum on his side following wins in his last two starts, and the fact that the reigning US Open champion’s power-hitting game was ideally suited for Royal Troon, a tied-ninth finish was the absolute worst Johnson could have finished with. The confident American could have done better, but for a stretch of triple bogey-par-bogey from the tough 11th hole onwards on day three.
The American world No. 6 has never felt comfortable on links courses, but that looked like changing when he opened the tournament with five birdies in his first six holes. However, it was the same old story once he double-bogeyed the par-three eighth, and eventually wound up tied 39th at four-over par.
The defending champion enjoyed a good campaign despite being one of the big names to get the bad half of the draw. A third-round 75, with two double bogeys, hurt his chances as he finished tied 12th at one-under par.
‘Beef ’ was the undoubted superstar of the tournament, playing well despite it being only his second major, and regaling the fans with his interaction with them.
Quote of the day from Andrew 'Beef" Johnston: "I had pizza for dinner. A 10-inch, not a 20-inch win-a-tee-shirt-if-you-finish-it type thing"— Tom English (@BBCTomEnglish) July 16, 2016
The magic wore off on the final day in which he was four-over for the last 14 holes, but an eighth place finish was an excellent result for the happy-go-lucky Londoner.
The Spaniard continued his good run of form with a tied fifth place at four-under par, but he will view this as another lost opportunity to win his first major title. Was hitting the ball superbly all week.
A lot was expected from the South African and he seemed to be heading the right direction with a hole-in- one on the opening day.
But a quintuple bogey on the 11th hole on Friday completely derailed him.
Henrik Stenson won his first Major in scintillating style as he claimed a three-shot victory over Phil Mickelson at the Open Championship, which saw him overtake Rory McIlroy in second place in the Race to Dubai rankings.
The former Dubai resident, who was already assured of a place in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, went toe-to-toe with Mickelson in one of the most fascinating Major championship final round duels in history.
The 40-year-old birdied four of his final five holes for a closing 63 – a new Open Championship record which equaled the lowest round in Major championship history.
His 20 under par total was the lowest Open Championship score in relation to par, eclipsing Tiger Woods’ 19-under-par record set at St Andrews in 2000.
In becoming the the first male player from Sweden to win a Major, Stenson claimed a staggering 1,363,834 Race to Dubai points to take his season total to 2,865,560 points from 10 events, moving to within 300,000 points of leader and Masters Tournament champion Danny Willett.
McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Tyrrell Hatton finished tied-fifth on four-under as they each claimed 273,541, with Garcia and Hatton both breaking into the Race to Dubai top 10 as a result.
Stenson did the clean sweep in 2013 when he clinched both the DP World Tour Championship and the Race to Dubai and he then successfully defended the tournament title the following year.
General admission to the DP World Tour Championship is free of charge. For more information please visit: www.DPWorldTourChampionship.com
In the end, the wait was worth it. Major tournaments should be won the way Henrik Stenson won the 145th Open Championship – with a performance so incredible; it will definitely become part of sporting folklore.
The Swede’s battle with the equally mesmeric Phil Mickelson at Royal Troon on Sunday will go down as one of the finest in the history of the Open Championship.
In fact, I will go out on a limb and put it ahead of the celebrated ‘Duel in the Sun’, that fantastic 1977 Open in Turnberry featuring eventual winner Tom Watson and the vanquished Jack Nicklaus.
It was like watching two heavyweight boxers going at each other from the starting bell to the last, trading blows with unwavering intensity, until one of them found extra inspiration in the last round to land the knockout blow.
The difference was that at Turnberry, Watson and Nicklaus played together all four days and could not be separated until the last hole. Watson birdied the last to edge ahead. He finished on 12-under par to Nicklaus’ -11, with Hubert Green third way behind at one-under par.
It was a similar storyline at Troon, although Stenson and Mickelson were not paired in the first two rounds. And the climax was virtually decided by the time the two stars reached the 17th green, but what happened in the preceding 16 holes was unforgettable.
Henrik Stenson's last 5 holes:— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 17, 2016
He saved his best for last. pic.twitter.com/7rTfYF7igK
Much like 1977, the next person in the field after Mickelson (-17) was a whopping 11 shots adrift (JB Holmes at six-under par), but what tilts the balance for me in favour of the final round in Troon is the number of birdies the two main protagonists made.
Watson, in his final round of five-under par 65, made seven birdies, while Nicklaus made four in his 66. On Sunday, Stenson made 10 birdies in his record-breaking eight-under par 63, while Mickelson made four birdies and an eagle in his 65.
Even looking at Stenson’s effort individually, it was the best finishing round ever to win an Open. His 63 was actually two shots better than Greg Norman’s previous best effort of 64 in 1993, which came on a par-70 Royal St George’s course. His total score for 72 holes was also an Open record low.
The stats are one way of looking at a performance; the other way is to see the quality of what transpired. After an unexpected blip on the opening hole, it was a trademark Stenson show. He was sensational off the tee, often using that three-wood of his to deadly effect as he bisected the fairways and put himself in great positions, and then capitalised with radar-guided iron approach shots.
When Stenson starts finding the greens in regulation with unerring accuracy, only one thing holds him back – his putter. And that was also on song on this occasion. Stenson really was the complete package and Mickelson was extremely unlucky to have encountered a rival in that kind of form.
There was a sense of déjà vu for those who follow the Open, Mickelson having beaten Stenson three years ago with a virtuoso performance that included four birdies in his last six holes at Muirfield.
Stenson spoke of getting his ‘revenge’ after Saturday’s third round, and he got it. In fact, he did one better than Mickelson, getting four birdies in the last five holes.
Even in the moment of his greatest triumph, the Swede reminded us once again why he is one of the most loved golfers in the world.
Stenson, who spent almost a decade living in Dubai, dedicated his win to his late friend Mike Gerbich. The popular former captain of Emirates Golf Club died on Wednesday after losing his battle against cancer. It was a touching gesture and one that just adds to Stenson’s legend.
He clearly is a great golfer, but more importantly, he is a better human being.