Sport Golf

Monday 19 March 2018

Stenson and Mickelson to go head-to-head in Open shootout

Royal Troon

Henrick Stenson and Phil Mickelson shake hands on the 18th at Royal Troon yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Henrick Stenson and Phil Mickelson shake hands on the 18th at Royal Troon yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Dermot Gilleece

A fascinating duel which gained momentum in the relative calm of last evening at Royal Troon is set to be renewed this afternoon, with the 145th Open Championship at stake.

And with a one-stroke lead at the top of the leaderboard, Henrik Stenson is attempting to become the first Swedish winner of a Major title. 

That his opponent happens to be the 2013 champion, Phil Mickelson, is a seriously complicating factor from Stenson's perspective. For it means a head-to-head battle with arguably the finest short-game exponent of his generation - the sort of challenge exemplified by Mickelson's 95-yard pitch to four feet for his last birdie yesterday, on the long 16th.

With American Billy Haas a further five strokes back in third place, comparisons are instantly valid with events at Turnberry 39 years ago, when Tom Watson secured a famous triumph in a head-to-head against Jack Nicklaus.

"It's going to be another tough, long day tomorrow, but I'm looking forward to it," said Stenson, who secured his lead through an improbable birdie on the forbidding 17th in a round of 68. "I've got a second and two thirds at The Open, so it's not like I'm looking to pick up anymore of those finishes. There's only one thing that matters tomorrow. I know he's not going to back down, and I'm certainly going to try not to back down either."

Reflecting on events at Muirfield, he added: "Phil won it very deservingly and made a great finish - four birdies on the last six holes, I believe. I played a lot with Phil, especially this year, and enjoy his company. He's always good to watch and I know I'll have to bring out my best."

Read More: Many hopes gone with the wind in race for Claret Jug

The 40-year-old Swede concluded: "If I give myself a 50-50, it might happen, it might not happen. The sun will come up on Monday anyway, hopefully. Maybe not in Scotland, but in other parts of the world."

Meanwhile, from an Irish perspective, Padraig Harrington was typically contrary when talking of indifferent putting after completing a third-round 73 with a 22-footer for a birdie on the 18th. "I played very nicely but I needed to hole a few more putts in the wind," he said. His only other birdie was the product of two-putts at the long sixth and his seemingly healthy return of 29 putts has to be set against only nine greens hit in regulation.

Westerly winds, gusting to 30mph at times, had an exaggerated impact on exposed terrain, right on the Firth of Clyde. In these circumstances, the course superintendent considered it prudent not to cut the greens yesterday morning, so as to reduce the risk of moving balls, as happened on two occasions on Friday. It meant they were running at 9.5 on the Stimpmeter, which is the average speed at members' clubs and almost 25 per cent slower than players would be accustomed to on America's PGA Tour.

"Greens at the Canadian Open next week are going to feel like Oakmont," said world number one, Jason Day, whose position, some way adrift at plus-one for the Championship, was hardly surprising in the absence of even one back-nine birdie over three days.

And with his caddying brother Austin issuing the cool command "Send it bro", the even longer hitting Dustin Johnson remained in touch until the treacherous 11th, where he was undone by a triple-bogey seven. So, there was no way that this proud old links was going to be overpowered by athleticism and modern technology.

With temperatures a chilly 16 degrees for the time of year, even in these parts, a considerable adjustment became necessary for players used to shirt sleeves and cooling drinks on every tee. But as usual there were those who coped, if only to buy into the Nicklaus dictum that: "Any golfer worth his salt has to cross the sea and try to win the British Open."

Meanwhile, from this side of the pond, Darren Clarke finished with two bogeys for a dispiriting 73 and, having made what he described as his most unexpected cut, Graeme McDowell was deprived of significant progress by a hole playing only 98 yards. That's what the famous Postage Stamp eighth measured yesterday, yet it cost the Portrush man a triple bogey six, when his wedge landed in the cavernous front bunker.

"That's an indication of how penal the traps are," he said after a 72 left him five over for the championship. "It's a fantastic golf hole - a lot like the seventh at Pebble. It's so hard to keep the flight down and that's the key.

"You've just got to stand there and hit the shot. It's very penal, though."

As to his position, he said: "It's still better than the 9.30 flight to Orlando I expected to be making this morning."

McDowell's experience lent further credence to the feelings of seasoned observers here, regarding the bunkers.

"They've raised them and moved them closer to the putting surfaces," said Ken Brown, a commentator for the BBC. Colin Byrne, who caddied for Rickie Ramsey confirmed this view.

All of which prompted the thought that sophisticated traps have so far outwitted the game's sophisticated mice.

British Open scoreboard (GB & I unless stated)

201 H Stenson (Swe) 68 65 68

202 P Mickelson (USA) 63 69 70

207 B Haas (USA) 68 70 69

208 A Johnston 69 69 70

209 JB Holmes (USA) 70 70 69

210 S Kjeldsen (Den) 67 68 75, T Finau (USA) 67 71 72, S Stricker (USA) 67 75 68

211 K Bradley (USA) 67 68 76, C Schwartzel (Rsa) 72 66 73, S Garcia (Spa) 68 70 73, P Reed (USA) 66 74 71

212 K Na (USA) 70 69 73, D Johnson (USA) 71 69 72, Z Johnson (USA) 67 70 75, T Hatton 70 71 71, J Herman (USA) 70 70 72

213 F Molinari (Ita) 69 71 73, E Grillo (Arg) 69 72 72, R McIlroy 69 71 73, MA Jimenez (Spa) 71 72 70, G Woodland (USA) 69 73 71, M Kaymer (Ger) 66 73 74, W Simpson (USA) 70 72 71

214 J Day (Aus) 73 70 71, H Porteous (Rsa) 70 76 68, M Kuchar (USA) 71 68 75, M Southgate 71 71 72, T Jaidee (Tha) 71 74 69, A Sullivan 67 76 71, B Snedeker (USA) 73 73 68, R Cabrera-Bello (Spa) 68 71 75, T Pieters (Bel) 68 76 70

215 A Noren (Swe) 70 72 73, J Rose 68 77 70, D Howell 74 70 71, N Colsaerts (Bel) 72 73 70, P Harrington 70 72 73

216 J Dufner (USA) 71 71 74, B-H An (Kor) 70 70 76, R Palmer (USA) 72 73 71, D Clarke 71 72 73

217 M Jones (Aus) 69 73 75, L Donald 73 72 72, R Fowler (USA) 69 72 76, R Knox 72 70 75, A Lahiri (Ind) 69 72 76, R Moore (USA) 70 73 74, L Westwood 71 73 73

218 KT Kim (Kor) 70 71 77, A Scott (Aus) 69 73 76, H Varner III (USA) 71 72 75, G McDowell 75 71 72, B Watson (USA) 70 76 72, J Thomas (USA) 67 77 74, J Furyk (USA) 74 72 72, J Rahm (Spa) 74 71 73, M Leishman (Aus) 74 69 75, J Donaldson 69 73 76, R Sterne (Rsa) 68 74 76, J Spieth (USA) 71 75 72

219, Z Lombard (Rsa) 69 76 74, K Chappell (USA) 71 75 73, H English (USA) 73 73 73

220 G Chalmers (Aus) 72 71 77, B Grace (Rsa) 70 74 76, D Willett 71 75 74, P Lawrie 72 74 74, R Evans 71 75 74, Y Ikeda (Jpn) 68 74 78, J Hahn (USA) 74 72 74, S Lee (Kor) 68 77 75

221 S Hend (Aus) 71 73 77, M O'Meara (USA) 71 72 78, P Kizzire (USA) 76 70 75, D Summerhays (USA) 71 73 77

222 C Hoffman (USA) 71 73 78, M Dawson (USA) 72 73 77, K Kisner (USA) 70 72 80

224 K Ichihara (Jpn) 69 77 78

225 C Montgomerie 71 75 79

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