Tuesday 20 March 2018

King Henrik’s historic day of glory after titanic tussle

Stenson becomes first Swede to claim Major title as sizzling 63 denies Mickelson

Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson share a moment as they leave the 18th green. Photo: Russell Cheyne/Reuters
Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson share a moment as they leave the 18th green. Photo: Russell Cheyne/Reuters
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

The coronation of King Henrik of Royal Troon took place on the 18th green to a fanfare of rapturous applause from the 7,000 golf fanatics who rose to acclaim the master of the Open links realm for 2016.

As long as golf is played, Stenson will occupy a special place in his country's annals as the first Swede ever to win a Major title, and he did it in magnificent style, firing a final round 63 to take the Claret Jug in his 42nd Major appearance.

The Swede showing his delight after sinking a birdie putt at 15. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
The Swede showing his delight after sinking a birdie putt at 15. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

His winning total of 264 converts to a 20-under par record for the Open, beating the previous best of 19-under par set by Tiger Woods in 2000 at St Andrews.

The triumph of the phlegmatic Swede, possessor of a dry sense of humour, but no less witty for that, was one of persistence and perseverance. He has endured slumps in his career; he lost millions in hard-earned money to crooked investor Allen Stanford, but he kept coming back to fight another day.

And on this day of all days, Stenson's contest with Mickelson was in essence a thrilling, head-to-head battle, as they swapped birdies and stayed locked together in golf's version of a blow for blow street fight.

It may have evolved under the Rules of the Royal and Ancient, and as civilized as two exemplary exponents of golf could make it, but behind that, two ferocious competitors were going at it with all they had.

Henrik Stenson being congratulated by his wife, Emma. Photo: Craig Brough/Reuters
Henrik Stenson being congratulated by his wife, Emma. Photo: Craig Brough/Reuters

Mickelson did not break. He did not wilt, he did not let those nerves of countless battles in the world's greatest tournaments get to him.


Five Major championships and a gutsy, leading-from-the-front performance over three tough days in the oldest Open of them all bears adequate testimony to his fortitude.

If he had been given a gift-wrapped 65 on the final day of this championship and told to take his chances after that, he would have accepted the offer with alacrity.

No, this was not Phil's failure; this was Stenson's homegrown success.

Everything he ever thought could happen, everything he ever dreamed of as a young boy, well, it pretty much all came together on Sunday, July 17, 2016.

Stenson certainly felt it was coming, saying: "I felt like this was going to be my turn. It's not something you want to run around and shout, but I felt like this was going to be my turn.

"I knew I was going to have to battle back, but I think that was the extra self-belief that made me go all the way this week."

There was an emotional element, in that a good friend of his, named Mike, had died of cancer during the week.

"I had news on Tuesday that the end was near, and unfortunately he passed away on Wednesday morning over in the US. He's always been there as a big supporter of mine, and in good days and bad days he's always sent me messages and been out at some events," said the champion.

"This one is dedicated to him, for sure. I felt like he was there with me this week.

Read more: Stunning final round at the Open sees Henrik Stenson win first ever major

Read more: Jordan Spieth denies requesting no photos be taken while putting at Royal Troon

Stenson began the day a shot ahead of Mickelson on 12-under par, but as ever in Majors, the crunch time arrived on the back nine.

In this case, the par-three 14th proved pivotal. A birdie there gave the Swede a one shot advantage, and on 15, he put a metaphorical dagger in the heart of Mickelson by slotting a 50-foot putt.

That gave him a two-shot lead with three holes to play, but there was more drama on the 16th.

"Phil missed his eagle putt, it looked like it was going to go in, and I expect him to make every putt; you have to.

"And it just snuck by and I'm standing over a five-footer down the hill to keep two ahead. That was a very important putt to make," he said.

A brilliant up-and-down followed to maintain the gap and Stenson birdied the last to finish at 20-under with a 63 and beat Mickelson by three shots.

"If I didn't believe, I wouldn't be sitting here. It's a dream come true as a young kid - well, not that young - I was 11 when I started playing," he said.

"But it was Ryder Cup and The Open Championship, those were the big early memories I had. So to sit here and hold this trophy is really amazing."

For every victory, there has to be a defeat, and Mickelson, ever gallant, hid his crushing disappointment well.

"It's disappointing to come in second, but I'm happy for Henrik," he said. "He's really a great champion. We've been friends for some time. I've always thought that he is one of the best ball-strikers in the game and that major championships are perfectly suited for him. I knew that he would ultimately come through and win.

"I'm happy that he did. I'm disappointed that it was at my expense."

The wonder of it was that he could score so well in a last round of an Open and still lose, but that's golf. Nobody understands that better than Mickelson.

"It's probably the best I've played and not won. I think that's probably why it's disappointing in that I don't have a point where I can look back and say, 'I should have done that, or had I only done this.' I played a bogey-free round of 65 on the final round of a Major.

"Usually that's good enough to do it, and I got beat. I got beat by ten birdies. It's not like other guys were out there doing the same thing. It was a challenging day."

The unseasonally cold temperatures and strong winds that blew in from the sea affected the morning groups, but the temperatures warmed up and the wind abated significantly in the afternoon.


Everything was set for a great golfing contest and that's how it turned out.

There were no springers from the pack. JB Holmes shot 69 for 278, 14 shots adrift of Stenson. Steve Stricker's 69 got him to 279, and then came Rory McIlroy (67), Tyrell Hatton of England (68) and Sergio Garcia (69) in tied-fifth on 280.

The big names expected to feature here were Jason Day, Dustin Johnson - the recently-crowned US Open champion - and Jordan Spieth, but that never quite materialised.

Day said: "Obviously I need to improve the short game. I didn't hole the putts that I needed to out there and obviously when I put myself in opportunity situations, with regards to driving greens and getting around the greens, I didn't get up and down for birdies. The same thing, when I missed greens, I didn't really save myself a lot."

Spieth now looks forward to the next challenge.

"We're trying to look at positives. I don't think we're far off from being able to tee off on Sunday afternoon at a Major," he said. "There's a lot of golf left even though it's going by quickly, as we play another in three weeks.

"All the parts seem to be coming together, whether it shows after a 30th place finish or not."

Read more: Henrik Stenson is the 2016 British Open champion: As it happened

How the drama unfolded

10.30: First man out on Thursday and again yesterday, Colin Montgomerie finishes what could be his last ever round in the Open with a 76 completed in a brisk two hours and 50 minutes.

2.02: Jordan Spieth completes the first sub-par round of the day with a 68, also his first sub-par round in the Majors since an opening 66 in the Masters.

2.34: Seconds before the final pair tees off, Andrew Johnston birdies the first to move into a share of third.

2.46: With Mickelson's approach inches from the hole, Stenson three-putts from short of the first green to instantly go from one ahead to one behind.

2.59: Stenson responds with a birdie from 15 feet on the second to get back on level terms.

3.10: Another birdie from similar distance on the third takes Stenson back in front as Mickelson misses from just five feet.

3.26: Mickelson holes from eight feet for an eagle on the fourth to momentarily lead again, but Stenson's two-putt birdie has the pair tied at 14 under.

3.55: Both players birdie the par-five sixth to move eight clear of the nearest challenger.

4.15: Stenson holes from 12 feet for birdie on the eighth and Mickelson misses from inside to fall a shot behind.

4.45: Yet another birdie from Stenson on the 10th, but Mickelson follows him in to stay one back.

5.0: A second three-putt bogey of the day from Stenson drops him back into a tie for the lead.

5.36: For the third time in four rounds, Stenson birdies the par-three 14th to move back in front.

5.49: Stenson drains a birdie putt of around 50 feet across the 15th green to claim a two-shot lead for the first time.

6.05: Mickelson comes agonisingly close to holing from 18 feet for eagle on the 16th, but Stenson gets up and down from left of the green for birdie to maintain his two-shot lead.

6.30: Stenson completes an amazing performance in style with a 10th birdie of the day on the last to seal a three-shot win.

Irish Independent

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