Golf Monthly's Joel Tadman debates if Henrik Stenson's 2016 Open Championship victory is the greatest maiden major win of all time
Watching Henrik Stenson’s sensational Sunday performance to win the 145th Open Championship, I was convinced it was the best I’d seen since I began following golf around 20 years ago.
To see this man, who had just turned 40 and achieved pretty much everything else in the game, step up to the plate and make 10 birdies while playing with his nearest competitor pushing him all the way left me in a state of awe. Henrik Stenson is my man crush and I’m not ashamed to say it!
Stenson has come close to winning majors before, ironically his closest finish being runner up to Phil Mickelson at Muirfield in 2013.
Many are billing their epic tussle as the ‘Battle of the Breeze’, one that rivals the ‘Duel in the sun’ between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson at Turnberry in 1977. But they had already won majors and Nicklaus himself even took to social media to say that Stenson and Mickelson’s tussle was better than theirs. So it begs the question, was this the greatest ever maiden major triumph?
Time for some perspective I think. Best Open Championship performance in recent history? Almost certainly. Best maiden major win? That’s up for debate.
Let’s look at the facts now the euphoria has calmed somewhat. Stenson broke a lot of records with his performance on Sunday. He became only the second player in history to shoot a final-round 63 in a major after Johnny Miller, who did so in the final round of the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont to also win his maiden major title.
That day, Miller started the final round six strokes behind the leaders and found all 18 greens in regulation. He was also one of only four players to break 70 in the final round, compared to the final day at Royal Troon in 2016 where 13 players did so.
I was not lucky enough to be around when Johnny Miller won the US Open that day, so it’s difficult to know if his 63 was ‘better’ than Stenson’s. What is different about the two is that Stenson was going head-to-head with Mickelson for the title almost in a matchplay situation, whereas Miller was coming from the pack and arguably playing like he had nothing to lose.
Tiger Woods’ first major win, the 1997 Masters, must come close to any maiden major title discussion. It was a display of total domination never seen before in recent times, winning by 12 shots and setting the tournament scoring record of 18-under par at just 21-years of age.
So which was better? Woods’ win was more emphatic and came without the experience of contending in big tournaments before while Stenson has already been World No.1 and won the money list on both sides of the Atlantic. Stenson’s victory came arguably on a more difficult golf course in bad weather for two days. It’s tough to call…
There are other maiden major victories that stand out in my mind. Jordan Spieth’s 2015 Masters victory was comparable to Woods’ given the strength of the field, the fact that he was also just 21-years old and equalled the Masters total scoring record.
Dustin Johnson’s US Open win a few weeks ago sent tingles down my spine and will forever be remembered as a gritty, deserved win given the rules debacle initiated by the USGA on Sunday’s back nine. How about Darren Clarke’s emotional win at Royal St. Georges or Paul Lawrie’s dramatic win at Carnoustie in 1999 following Jean Van De Velde’s final hole meltdown?
They’re certainly all worth a mention but having considered all the contenders, this lowly hack is going to give it to Stenson. He went out there and grabbed his opportunity, made history in his country and dedicated his win to a friend who recently passed away from cancer. For all that, I salute you sir. Well played.