Henrik Stenson will go down in the history books as the winner of the 2016 Open Championship, but we simply mustn’t allow time to dilute Phil Mickelson’s role in one of the greatest ever final rounds in Major Championship history
Mickelson cements legendary status at Royal Troon
Henrik Stenson will go down in the history books as the winner of the 2016 Open Championship, but we simply mustn’t allow time to dilute Phil Mickelson’s role in one of the greatest Sundays in Major Championship history.
We’ve just witnessed one of the best final-round performances in Major history. And I’m not talking about Stenson (putting the Swede’s Sunday 63 into some sort of context is beyond my descriptive power).
The American admitted in his post-round press conference that he thought anything below 70 would give him a great chance of lifting the Claret Jug for the second time. He can’t possibly have imagined a bogey-free 65 wouldn’t be enough to get the job done.
He opened with a majestic 63 and produced fireworks on Sunday. He shot under par in every round of the 145th Open. And he still didn’t win. That says more about Stenson’s performance than anything anyone will write.
Mickelson started as he meant to go on, almost holing his approach to the par-4 1st before making an eagle on the par-5 4th. He turned in 32 following a four at the par-5 6th and birdied the 10th to go five-under-par for the round.
But perhaps the most impressive shot of the day was his 3-wood approach to the par-5 16th. He’d fallen two shots behind at this point, courtesy of a Stenson tramliner on the 15th green, and knew he needed to do something special.
From 270 yards, his approach skirted the left edge of the bunker and settled some 12 feet from the hole. It was a stroke of sublime quality, context aside. How the subsequent eagle putt missed is anyone’s guess; probably the work of the same god who felt his attempt at a 62 on Thursday didn’t deserve to drop.
Mickelson was truly magnanimous in his press conference, as you’d expect him to be, but also clearly devastated. It was put to him that his runner-up finish should be easier to take than the ten others because of how brilliantly he performed. I disagree.
He played golf of an almost unfeasibly high standard and didn’t walk away as the champion. At least if you don’t play to your full potential you can talk yourself into believing you didn’t deserve to win.
Here, at Royal Troon, there was simply nothing more he could have done. If he plays like that at Baltusrol in two weeks he’ll no doubt walk away with the Wanamaker trophy.
But let’s go back two paragraphs. This was Mickelson’s 11th runner-up finish in a Major. Yes, 11. If he wasn’t already down as one of the best golfers to play the game in a professional capacity, he is now.
He won his first PGA Tour title as an amateur at the Northern Telecom Open at the age of 21. He recorded his first top ten in a Major in 1993; 23 years on, he’s still at it.
It’s not just his record that makes his career so impressive, but also its longevity. Mickelson suffers from arthritis, but nothing has dimmed his enthusiasm for the game. At the age of 46, he’s still as passionate about golf as he was all those years ago when he started his professional journey.
So while Stenson will rightfully get most of the plaudits for his long-overdue triumph, let’s not forget the role Mickelson played in the best Major showdown since the Duel in the Sun in 1977.
And, crucially, let’s celebrate the fact he’s still thrilling us almost three decades after appearing on the scene.