The Open Championship 2016: Stenson edges Mickleson in epic final day
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
HENRIK STENSON and Phil Mickelson produced the best finish The Open Championship has seen since Tom Watson beat Jack Nicklaus in 1977 in the Duel in the Sun, with the Swede finally securing his first major.
Stenson began the day one ahead of the American and the two men went at it hammer and tongs for 18 holes, throwing birdies and eagles at one another all day long. Their shotmaking was sensational, and Stenson capped it all with a glorious long iron to the par three 17th hole, his tee shot almost flying straight into the hole. Mickelson had responded with counter-punches all afternoon, but this time he was on the ropes and came up short and then hit an indifferent pitch before holing a 15-foot putt for par. Stenson's birdie putt dribbled past, but he still went to the 72nd tee with a two-shot lead. He then birdied the last to win by three.
The pair exchanged birdies for fun at Royal Troon, with Stenson finishing with a final round of 63 for a scarcely-credible winning total of 264, 20 under par. A measure of the quality of the golf these two men played came with the fact that Mickelson, who had a final round of 65, finished 11 shots ahead of third-placed JB Holmes.
"I want to thank Phil for a fantastic battle," Stenson said. "I am thrilled to come out on top this time. I lost a dear friend to cancer on Wednesday and I feel like he has been with me all week. Mike, this one is for you."
They say that major championships don't really get going until the back nine on Sunday, but this one was different. With Stenson and Mickelson starting the day so far ahead of the rest of the pack, somebody had to make a move early on but with the wind blowing, the tees back and the temperatures low, these were not conditions for low scoring.
Perhaps the man to make the move would be Tony Finau, the big-hitting American playing in his first Open? He began the day on three under par and birdied the opening hole, but was still eight strokes behind Stenson, who had yet to tee off.
But the two men who had to make something happen quickly were Bill Haas, in third place on six under par, and everybody's favourite Englishman, Andrew Johnston, universally known as Beef, in fourth place on five under par and enjoying every second of the biggest week of his life. Johnston birdied the opening hole, but gave the shot back at the second before almost holing his approach at the third. Nerves? What nerves?
In recent years this has been seen as a young man's game, but the leaderboard struck a blow for middle age - Mickelson is 46, Stenson is 40, Steve Stricker is 49 and Miguel Angel Jimenez, who began the day in the top 20, is 52. And then there was Colin Montgomerie, playing on what was once his home course. The 53-year-old Scot went through final qualifying to be here and played all four rounds. He was first out and completed what may well be his final Open Championship with a 76 and a 17-over-par total of 301.
By the time they walked off the first green, there had been a two-shot swing between Mickelson and Stenson - the American birdied the hole,while Stenson dropped a shot to trail his rival by a shot.
Elsewhere, Rory McIlroy had moved to four under par after 10 holes - and it could so easily have been three or four shots better had his putter been behaving itself. But, as so often this season, the short stick let him down and he was left to rue what might have been. He finished with a 67 and a four-under-par total of 280.
Stenson responded brilliantly to his opening bogey, with birdies at the second, third and fourth to move to 14 under par. But he was still only level with Mickelson, who eagled the par-five fourth. This championship was beginning to take on shades of Turnberry 1977, the famous Duel in the Sun between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus - the difference being that there wasn't a lot of sun this time around.
By now the pair were seven ahead of third-placed Johnston, who had moved to seven under. And that became eight when they both birdied the sixth. Mickelson had a huge break at the next when he sliced his drive and it was heading for a gorse bush until it struck a spectator.
Stenson and Mickelson hit majestic shots to the eighth, the Postage Stamp. Stenson rolled his putt in to move to 16 under par, while Mickelson's effort slid by. Advantage the Swede. Pars followed at the ninth. Both men had played the front nine in 32 - on the final day of The Open. Just amazing.
By now, JB Holmes had taken over third spot on seven under, but he might as well have been playing in a different tournament.
So to the back nine. Mickelson missed the fairway at the 10th but produced a fabulous approach. Like a world-class heavyweight boxer, Stenson came straight back with a glorious blow of his own. Who was going to crack first, because surely they couldn't keep this up? Stenson was first with his 12-footer and in it went for his sixth birdie of the day. Seventeen under. Naturally, Mickelson followed him in. Sixteen under. Nine birdies and an eagle between them in 10 holes. This was fantasy golf.
And so to the 11th, the most difficult driving hole on the course, with the railway line running alongside the tee, thick rough, a blind tee shot. Gulp! Stenson found the left edge with a three wood, Mickelson split the fairway with a driver. But Stenson three-putted and, once again, they were tied at 16 under with seven holes to play.
Johnston, meanwhile, was beginning to unravel, with dropped shots at the eighth, 10th and 12th holes taking him back to four under par.
The 12th seemed that it might turn out to be pivotal. Stenson played it perfectly. Mickelson, meanwhile, missed the fairway with an iron and found a dreadful lie, from where he pulled the ball into an even worse spot. He found the green with his next and holed the putt for a par. Nothing to it.
Pars followed at the 13th, but Stenson produced a brilliant birdie two at the 14th to move one ahead again with four holes to play. By now, the the wind had died and, miracle of miracles, the sun was shining.
A double-bogey six at the 15th cost Holmes third place, which was now held at six under by Stricker, a man who plays only nine or 10 events a year.
And just when you thought the drama could not possibly be ramped up any higher, Stenson holed a monstrous putt for a birdie at the 15th and when Mickelson was unable to follow him in, suddenly the 40-year-old Swede was 18 under par, two in front with just three holes left to play.
Stenson is made of tough stuff, and he needed to be at the par-five 16th, where he put his second shot in thick grass beside the green, with Mickelson on the putting surface in two. Stenson played a wonderful shot, somehow getting the ball to four feet. Mickelson's eagle putt looked to be in the hole all the way but fell off at the last second. Still, a birdie took him to 17 under. Now Stenson had to hole his to retain his two-shot lead - and in it went.
Holmes finished third on his own on six under par, with Stricker fourth, one shot further adrift. Tyrrell Hatton, of England, McIlroy and Sergio Garcia were tied for fifth on four under, with Johnston eighth on his own on three under after a 73.
Special mention must be made of the achievement of an English golfer called Matthew Southgate. Exactly 12 months ago he was was being treated for testicular cancer, yet here he was at Troon, closing out with a round of 69 and a one-under-par total of 283. It was good enough for a tie for 12th place and means he gets an automatic invitation back to play in next year's Open at Birkdale.
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