Henrik Stenson seals stunning Open triumph after epic Troon tussle
Swede shoots 63 to hold off Phil Mickelson challenge and claim first Major
Henrik Stenson shot a stunning final day 63 to hold off Phil Mickelson and secure his maiden Major title. Photograph: Reuters.
Henrik Stenson got a kick up the rear end to start his quest for glory in this 145th edition of the British Open, a three-putt bogey on the first hole. It was the wake-up call he needed, whether he liked it or not, and from there to a birdie on the final green that tantalisingly rolled up and into the tin cup as if aware of its place in history, the Swede was imperious.
In outdueling Phil Mickelson in as fine a final round as this oldest of championships has ever witnessed, Stenson – who combined mental calmness under pressure with the physical attribute to power his trusted 3-wood through hillocks and dunes to routinely find fairway after fairway – created history. The first Swede to win a men’s Major, probably the most pertinent achievement of all.
On a day which brought grey clouds and a stiff wind working in off the Firth of Clyde in this storied part of Ayrshire, there was – almost unbelievably – rays of sunshine breaking through the clouds to acknowledge golf’s newest champion as Stenson produced a final round 63 for a record-breaking 20-under-par total of 264 to seal the deal.
If ever there was a duel, this was it. The rest of the field were involved in a different tournament. Stenson had three shots to spare over Mickelson, who fought to the death with a finishing 65 of his own. Any other time and all that . . . but, this time, there was one man who outplayed him: Stenson, who carried a one-shot lead into the final round, saw it flipped on its head at the first hole where he bogeyed to Mickelson’s birdie, and the battle lines were drawn.
That JB Holmes, in third place, finished all of 14 strokes behind Stenson was its own telltale sign of the gulf that existed between the two principal combatants.
Like two heavyweight pugilists, Stenson and Mickelson stood toe-to-toe and went blow for blow until, with the grandstands getting ever bigger the closer they got to the clubhouse, the Swede delivered his piece de resistance on the 18th green, his 10th birdie of a quite extraordinary exhibition performed under the most severe pressure. Through it all, he remained cool and calm and so collected.
From the start, the spirit of intent – from both protagonists – was declared. After that opening hole bogey, Stenson’s response was to reel off three successive birdies, from the second to the fourth, while Mickelson showed his own desire by rolling in a 10-footer for eagle on the fourth to remain locked together on the flashing LED leaderboards strategically positioned beside each and every green. Those most in the heat of battle knew exactly where they stood, and so did everyone else.
For those players up ahead, the roars from the crowds that greeted each supremely executed shot and each birdie was as spine-chilling as any heard not just on this famed old links but any anywhere in the championship’s rich history. The quality of shot-making was supreme. And, at the turn, Stenson – just as he had started out – was one shot ahead of Mickelson after both players took 32 strokes each on that front nine.
Quite remarkably, the best was yet to come. It was exhilarating, and it was magical. Stenson stumbled with a bogey on the 11th. Then, Mickelson, the sorcerer, contrived to salvage the unlikeliest of pars on the Par-4 12th hole where, in rough off the tee and again for his approach, he ultimately sank a 30 footer that had him fist-pumping the Troon air and the pair were locked at 16-under standing on the 14th tee.
And it was on this Par 3 of 178 yards that Stenson took the initiative, rolling in a 20-footer for a birdie. He had moved one ahead. On the 15th, Stenson sank a 50-footer for birdie – “an absolute bomb,” he called it later – and, then, on the 16th, he got up and down from greenside rough for a birdie that maintained his two-shot lead after Mickelson’s eagle attempt finished on the edge.
Two shots up with three holes to play, Stenson sucked in the air as if oxygen were a new life-force. He removed his jumper. He took deep breaths in, and exhaled slowly. He was in a new stratosphere. And his four-iron tee shot to the 17th was pure and true, settling six feet from the pin. Mickelson, meanwhile, pulled his left but again demonstrated his short game wizardry by getting up and down for par. Stenson’s birdie putt missed. “It would have made the walk up 18 more comfortable,” he admitted.
Yet, providing an indication of the adrenaline rushing through his system, Stenson smashed a 3-wood off the 18th tee. The ball carried 310 yards and came to a stop just feet away from a fairway bunker that in the past had claimed Greg Norman among its victims. This time, Stenson would be no fall guy. His approach found the heart of the green and, with no need of assistance from any golfing gods, Stenson finished the job all by himself as the putter, in his hands for a 27th time of the round, was raised to the skies to confirm his masterclass with a closing birdie.
“It’s probably the best I’ve played and not won,” said Mickelson. “I think that’s probably why it’s disappointing in that I don’t have a point where I can look back and say, I should have done that or had I only done this. I played a bogey-free round of 65 on the final round of a major, usually that’s good enough to do it, and I got beat.
He had played his part in the drama, but the final scene ended with the spotlight of golf’s oldest Major shining on Stenson.