Phil Mickelson, who entered Sunday’s final round of the British Open at Royal Troon one stroke behind Henrik Stenson, toured the final 18 holes without a bogey as he made four birdies and an eagle for a 65, one of the lowest final rounds in Open history.
It wasn’t nearly enough.
Mickelson’s best normally would have resulted in him hoisting the Claret Jug. Instead, he was an up-close-and-personal witness to a record-equaling 63 that was crafted by Stenson, who was in a zone that none of us have never visited. Stenson wound up with a three-shot victory.
The Swede started the day shakily, bogeying his first hole. From then on, however, Stenson had only one hiccup when he made a three-putt bogey.
His scorecard otherwise was littered with birdies, 10 of them in all. Being a fan of great ball-striking, it was a joy to watch. Perhaps even more fabulous of Stenson pounding 3-wood after 3-wood right down the pipe was him raining putts in from all quadrants of the green, which came as a surprise since he’s not known for his proficiency with the flat stick.
Of course, the “Throwdown at Troon” was instantly being compared to 1977’s “Shootout in the Sun” at Turnberry (which is only 20 miles away) that pitted Tom Watson against Jack Nicklaus. On that day Watson fired a 65 to edge out Nicklaus’ 66, which had been the gold standard for final-round shootouts.
But even Nicklaus came out today and said that had been usurped. You have to give Mickelson a lot of credit as he doggedly kept after it in the face of being repeatedly punched in the gut by Stenson’s brilliance.
I’ve always been fascinated with links-style golf. In the States, we are used to lush, perfectly manicured fairways and greens. Golfers can pepper the flag stick without remorse, causing the ball to zip and zag.
But in links play, golfers must bounce balls into greens and play the contours. Stenson and Mickelson were somewhat aided this year by steady precipitation, which made the pins much more accessible. However, the wind did blow ferociously during the middle two rounds, but by the time the duo teed it up on Sunday, the wind had gone down and the course became somewhat defenseless.
This is not to take away from the two magnificent rounds. But having played golf for 50 years, I can tell you it’s much easier to score when you don’t have to shape the ball, like flighting it down into the wind or teeing it high and letting it fly downwind.
You didn’t have to be a fan of golf to enjoy what transpired. Even the most novice of followers had to be picking their jaws off the floor when Stenson poured in birdie after birdie, including his last on No. 18 that was a winding, back-door draino.
This Open will be long remembered after I have taken my last swing. I, for one, am glad to have witnessed it.