Duel of the ages - Henrik Stenson joins Major ranks in style

Swede produces a stunning final round of 63 to keep brave Phil Mickelson at bay

A duel of the ages sorted it all out, and – perhaps fittingly on shores where once upon a time Viking marauders invaded in search of riches – Henrik Stenson claimed the coveted Claret Jug, the first Swedish man to ever get his hands on a Major championship.

This was more than a show of strength, though.

Stenson joined combat with American Phil Mickelson in a final round of this 145th British Open and, after meeting fire with fire for much an intriguing battle, the Swede's quality of shot-making and prowess with the putter in hand contrived to give him a critical edge.

Stenson’s stunning closing round of 63 to Mickelson’s 65 gave the 40-year-old Swedish golfer a total of 20-under-par 264, a championship record low score.


To all intents and purposes, what unfolded over the famed links of Royal Troon was every bit as remarkable as the storied tale of Tom Watson’s final round encounter with Jack Nicklaus in the 1977 Open.

That became known as the “Duel in the Sun,” and, after days of grey, dank weather, it was perhaps appropriate that the sun broke through as this “Duel in the Wind” played to a drama-filled finish.

Mickelson, the vanquished, admitted afterwards that the Watson-Nicklaus encounter had “crossed my mind,” adding: “I certainly was thinking about that. I know that I wanted to be more of Tom in that case than Jack . . . . I understand how it feels, it’s bittersweet, I guess.”

Indelibly linked

Going into the future, the names of Stenson and Mickelson will be indelibly linked.

And the two, who left the 18th green with each others’ arms wrapped around their shoulders, knew they had delivered one of the finest final round duels in the championship’s history. JB Holmes, in third place, was all of 14 shots adrift of the champion. Theirs was a two horse race, one that effectively went to the wire.

Stenson – who moved to number five in the latest official world rankings – claimed a maiden Major title after many years of near misses.

Indeed, he had finished runner-up to Mickelson at Muirfield three years ago. This time, the shoe was on the other foot.

“I knew he wasn’t going to back down at any point, and in a way that makes it easier for myself. I knew I had to keep on pushing, keep on giving myself birdie chances and he wasn’t going to give it to me, so I had to pull away.

“I’m just delighted I managed to do that with a couple of birdies at the right time on the final stretch,” said Stenson, those critical birdies on the run home coming in a quickfire blitz on the 14th, 15th and 16th holes before a final birdie, his 10th of the day, on the 18th put the icing on the cake.

Before his round, Stenson had received a message from Jesper Parnevik – who had experienced so many close calls of his own – that was succinct. “Go out and finish what I didn’t manage to finish,” went the message. Stenson did it in the style of a champion.

As he remarked afterwards: “I feel very privileged to be the one to hold this trophy. There’s been many great players from my country who tried in past years and decades and there’s been a couple of really close calls . . . . . I’m really proud to have done that, and it’s going to be massive for golf in Sweden with this win.”

Stenson hadn’t won a tournament in 18 months until he lifted the BMW International in Cologne three weeks ago.

His confidence boosted, he arrived here in Troon with a sense that something would happen. “For some reason, I felt like this is my time, and it was . . . . you never know, once you open the floodgates what might happen.”

As it is, Stenson won’t have much time before returning to the Major stage as the US PGA takes place at Baltusrol in New Jersey next week.

“It’s going to take a while for all this to sink in, it’s going to be a much busier week than I expected . . . . but we’ve got a big schedule this summer. It’s the PGA in a week’s time, and then the Olympics. But it’s all good things that will happen. I’m going to be out there trying my hardest in a week’s time at the PGA.”

Now, the Claret Jug will take pride of place in the family home.

“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “As a young kid, I was 11 when I started playing, it was Ryder Cup and the Open Championship, those were the big early memories I had.”

Rory McIlroy finished as the leading Irish player, shooting a final round 67 for 280 that left him in a three-way tie for fifth along with Sergio Garcia and Tyrrell Hatton.

Big thing

“I can only be positive going into Baltusrol, really. I’m playing well. I’m driving the ball great. I think that’s a big thing, especially with the PGA coming up,” said McIlroy.

The PGAs are usually if you can drive the ball well, you’ll do well, and I’ve had success (winning twice) in that tournament before, so I’m really happy with that.

“I’ll go there feeling pretty good about myself.”

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times