There have been several unforgettable finishes in major golf tournaments in the past. Some come to mind is the 2009 PGA Championship between Tiger Woods and Y.E. Yang, the 1975 Masters between Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf, and of course, “The Duel In The Sun”, 1977 British Open between Nicklaus and Tom Watson but it really will be tough to match what transpired last Sunday at Royal Troon.
Henrik Stenson won the 145th The Open Championship, in which he broke all kinds of records. He equaled the all-time low score of 20-under to win a major. He broke the previous Open record 19-under par winning score of Tiger Woods. He shot a 63 to match Johnny Miller’s best-ever final-round score to win a major. He has ensured that his name is etched in the record books forever.
But it goes much more than that. This win will also be remembered for the style in which it was achieved. The battle he had with Phil Mickelson was absolutely fascinating — from the word go to the last hole. It wasn’t as good Jack Nicklaus and Watson, it was better, much better.
Stenson shot an eight-under-par 63 and Mickelson shot a six-under-ar 65. It needed to be seen in the context that not only were they playing in the final group, they also faced the pressure of a final round in a major championship. On top of that, Mickelson has been winless since the 2013 Open title in Muirfield, while Stenson was trying to win his first major. With all that background, one would expect both players to come and shoot the best round of their lives, but no one, and I mean no one expected what we saw this past Sunday!
It was like seeing two unrelenting boxers that went after each other from the opening bell. They had a combined fourteen birdies and an eagle – quite sensational. And it wasn’t as if Royal Troon was playing easy. Even if you think that the luck of the draw was with them in the first two rounds, to tally 20-under par and 17-under par takes some seriously good golf.
Stenson won the major in his trademark fashion — he led the greens in regulation, and that is the hallmark of his golf. His iron play is immensely strong and that not just keeps him out of trouble, but also sets up a lot of birdie opportunities. And if his putter is working decently, he will always have a chance in any tournament. As it happened, all aspects of his game were on song at Royal Troon.
But, you have to feel for Mickelson because, apart from being a very good golfer, he has an amazing connect with the fans, and one does not know how much more he has left in the tank in the majors. In other major, this would have been the winning score, but Stenson not just matched him shot for shot, and went 2 strokes better on a day where he could not be beaten.
We are blessed in golf to have some genuinely nice top-class athletes in the world of golf, led by the likes of Rory McElroy, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, and more, but what we all witnessed this past weekend told a story, a great story. No one ever thought that Mickelson would play this good in a major again, and he went out and blasted away like only he can, but in the end, he fell short.
Stenson played possibly the greatest final round against a worthy foil, went toe to toe with one of the best of our generation, and scored his elusive major. People will look back on this pas weekend and will ask that question – where were you when you saw the one of the best, if not the best, final round ever in our lifetime.