On a phenomenal final day at Royal Troon, Stenson wins Open Championship by beating Phil Mickelson by three shots, finishing on a score of -20.
Winning major golf tournaments is not supposed to be easy. Henrik Stenson – a veteran of both major Tours, three Ryder Cups and numerous professional wins – was until today, a fine player with an asterisk against his name. In this famously fickle game of ours, if you don’t win one of the big four, you simply cannot be thought of as one of the very best. Asterisk denotes good, not great.
After one of the most captivating final rounds in modern golfing history, Henrik Stenson made the hardest of all sporting achievements look easy. Be under no illusions, his final round 63 was one of the finest performances the game has ever seen. Consider the asterisk well and truly gone.
Of course, it takes two to tango and if Stenson’s ball striking was imperious, his arch-rival on the day, Phil Mickelson possessed the short game touch of an artist and a surgeon rolled into one. This final round dual was so good that if you took Stenson away and we would be saying the same things about Phil Mickelson.
How the final round of the 2016 Open unfolded
Heading into the final round it was already clear this Open Championship would go one of two ways. It was Phil versus Henrik, the master ball-striker versus the short game maestro, Europe versus America. The chances of Bill Haas, Beef Johnston, Sergio Garcia and the rest were talked up in the endless pre-amble but for those who had watched the first three days at Royal Troon, Mickelson and Stenson were in a class of their own. Whilst the wind and rain were exposing the weaknesses of the chasing pack, these two just kept making birdie after birdie, pushing themselves further away from the shoreline. Nerves and inexperience wouldn’t be a factor in what was going to be a straight shoot-out. It had all the makings of a classic.
And so it proved. Mickelson stiffed his approach to the 1st then Stenson’s opening bogey was evened out with a birdie at the next.
By the time they reached the turn, Mickelson and Stenson had lapped the field. The only question left to answer was who would crack first?
As they traded birdies at 10, it seemed like these two were playing a different course to the rest. As the pressure mounted, they both got better.
That the first truly bad shot played by either man came at the 12th was extraordinary. Mickelson’s pushed drive was followed by a pulled mid iron and his third was blind and played from a heavy lie. Danger. Ha. This is Phil Mickelson we are talking about and the 25-footer he holed must have felt like a dagger to the great Swede. The message from the American was clear – if you want to win your first major Henrik, you are going to do it the hardest way imaginable.
But Henrik had the bit between his teeth all week. His long game was nothing short of exquisite, in fact there is a case to be made that this was one of the best ball striking performances of all time. The key moment however, came not with his driver (or in Henrik’s case, his trusty 3-wood), but with his putter. A long birdie attempt across the green at 15 was his 8th birdie of the round and gave him a two shot buffer. Somehow the Swede had reached -18.
With the Claret Jug waiting, Stenson would have been forgiven for treading nervously back towards the clubhouse. But this was unlike any other maiden major win. The inner calm and unfaltering self-belief allowed him to make sublime swing after sublime swing down the stretch. Mickelson, as incredible as he was, couldn’t match the Swede.
In the end, Henrik Stenson holed a 15-foot birdie putt at the 72nd to shoot a whopping four round total of -20. Third place was JB Holmes at -6. That was a truly great score on a brutal Royal Troon layout. That Stenson beat that by 14 shots was beyond belief.
Stenson Wins Open Championship
In the end, Mickelson could do nothing but doff his cap and bow his head to a 40 year-old Swede who had produced a modern sporting masterclass. Becoming a major champion was a destination many felt Stenson would finally reach but the journey was what mattered here. You win a major like this and somehow it means more. It was a performance that will be talked about for many, many years. Remember this day, it was special.