Stenson's Open triumph one for the ages

Henrik Stenson
Henrik Stenson pumps his fists after rolling in a birdie on the 18th green, his 10th of a record-breaking round. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

They reprised the famous 1977 Duel in the Sun from Turnberry, but in the end, Henrik Stenson's round for the ages – perhaps the best closing round in major championship history – sunk Phil Mickelson in the Open Championship at Royal Troon.

Stenson shot an eight-under par 63 – the lowest final round to par in any men's major to win – rolling in a 6m birdie putt at the last to clinch his first win in a major at age 40.

His 20-under par is also a scoring record for the Open Championship, knocking Tiger Woods' 19-under out of the annals and joining Jason Day’s mark for all majors set in winning last year’s US PGA Championship.

It was that good.

Mickelson shot 65 and was magnificent. But in a cruel twist, he was left with his 11th runner-up finish in a major, three shots shy.

The only consolation for the American was that he did nothing wrong; Stenson absorbed everything that “Lefty” threw at him and then pulled away with four birdies in the last five holes.

Remarkably, they were a full 11 shots ahead of the third-placed player, JB Holmes, of the United States. It was as though they were playing a different golf course.

For so long, it was a shoot-out, from the time Mickelson birdied the first and Stenson inexplicably three-putted, so that the Swede's overnight one-shot lead had been handed over to his opponent.

Mickelson had planted a kiss on his fingers and then on to the trophy cabinet on the first tee, and for a few moments, he looked the steadier player.

But not for long.

It went like this:

·        At the second, Stenson birdied to tie it again, although Mickelson lipped out with a chip.

·        At the third, Stenson birdied from 5m and regained the outright lead.

·        At the fourth, Mickelsoon launched with a brilliant second to the par-five, and rolled in his eagle putt. Stenson made a two-putt birdie, but they were tied again.

·        At the par-three eighth, the Postage Stamp, Stenson rolled in a 4m birdie to take the lead again.

·        Both men birdied the 10th as the level of golf reached supreme heights.

·        At the 11th, Stenson took his second bogey of the day, again with a three-putt, and it was tied again.

·        At the 12th, Mickelson bombed a 6m par-saving putt to stay in a share of the lead.

·        At the 14th, Stenson again birdied from mid-range to lead by a shot, starting his run.

·        At the 15th, he would bomb a birdie from just off the fringe, all of 15m away, so that the margin was two.

·        At the par-five 16th, they both birdied again.

·        At 17, Mickelson dodged a bullet with a great up-and-down from off the green, while Stenson missed a great chance for birdie.

·        At 18, Mickelson hit his second on the green but not close enough and narrowly missed his birdie putt from long range, meaning Stenson, almost pin-high and only 6m away, was safe. Not content, the Swede buried the birdie putt.

 

Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus played one of the most famous final rounds in Open history in 1977, and this was just as good.

Stenson made 10 birdies for the day to go with two bogeys, both from putting issues, and his ball-striking was simply astonishing.

Mickelson himself made four birdies and an eagle and did not make a major error in his round. His worst round of the four days was a 70, yet he walked away without the prize.

Stenson is the No. 8 player in the world, and he has come close before. He had previously had nine top-10 finishes in major championships without a single victory. He sat with Sergio Garcia as the best player not to have won a major.

But no more.

He has been to some dark places, including financial troubles and a time when he could not find his swing. But he has come back hard, and he is a truly great player.

And now, a major champion. Sweden’s first.

“This will take a little while to sink in,” he said.

For all of us.

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