Henrik Stenson celebrates with the Claret Jug after an epic performance at Royal Troon.
Troon, Scotland - There are very few spectacles in sport like The Open Championship. Unique
in almost every way. The history, the linksland, the pot bunkers, the massive yellow scoreboards,
and of course the weather. It can give you all four seasons in the course of an afternoon and often
does. When you get a classic links the pedigree of Royal Troon and throw in two heavyweights of
the game playing at their all-time best simultaneously - it makes for an instant classic . . . and
that's exactly what we witnessed in the 145th Open Championship.
After opening with rounds of 63 - 69 - 70, Phil Mickelson and Swede Henrik Stenson 68 - 65 - 68
had separated themselves from the field at -11 and -12 respectively. When Stenson 3 putted the
first and Mickelson made birdie, it looked like Lefty might prevail, but the 40 year old Swede
birdied his next three holes to take charge again. When Mickelson eagled the par-5 fifth it was
once again knotted up, and that was how the entire afternoon went. Stellar shot after stellar
shot by each player turned this into the best theatre on a golf course since Tiger vs Bob May
in 2000 at Valhalla. When Stenson made a 20 ft birdie putt on the fourteenth and a bomb from
51 ft at the fifteenth, he took command with a two stroke lead. One last chance to close the gap
came on the par 5 sixteenth. Surprisingly Lefty hit iron off the tee, but a majestic 3 wood shot
left him with a makeable 22ft eagle attempt. The putt grazed the edge of the hole just breaking
away from the cup at the last moment. When Stenson managed to get up and down for his own
birdie, it was clear that he wasn't going to let this one getaway. After making par on the par 3
seventeenth, Stenson finished in style with a curling breaker on the last that found the hole on
its final revolution to shoot 63 and tie Johnny Miller's final round lowest score in a major (73'
Oakmont). Stenson's 20 under par total also tied Jason Day's mark for the lowest tournament
score in major history set last year at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
Stenson was beaming afterward, still in a bit of disbelief that he had finally conquered the golf
world with his first career major title: "It makes it even more special to beat a competitor like
Phil. He's been one of the best to play the game, certainly in the last 20 years. so to come out
on top after such a fight with him over these four days - it makes it even more special."
It was quite simply, a performance of a lifetime. As it was also for Mickelson in defeat. Seeking
his sixth major title, his final round bogey free 65 and 17 under par total was a score that would
have won 141 of the 145 Open Championships played.
When Mickelson was asked afterward if he thought about the famous Watson vs Nicklaus match
from The Open at Turnberry in '77 ("Duel in the Sun"), he remarked: "It certainly crossed my mind
a little bit out there today, that match when Jack and Tom went head to head there in '77. I certainly
was thinking about that. I know that I wanted to be more Tom in that case than Jack," Lefty said. "I
understand how it feels. it's bittersweet, I guess."
For the rest of us, no matter who you were rooting for, there was nothing bitter about it. Just sweet.