Cleat Geeks

The 19th Hole: The Open Championship

Thirty-nine years ago, golfing greats Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson waged what was dubbed the “Duel in the Sun” in the final round of the Open Championship at Turnberry.

tom-watson_1440058cHaving separated themselves from the rest of the field by 10 strokes, the pair went back and forth in a battle Watson eventually won by a stroke as each birdied the final hole.

This past weekend, Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson played a modern-day version of the duel, this time at Royal Troon in the 145th edition of the Open Championship. The top two players headed into Saturday’s third round atop the leaderboard, then pulled away before taking it to a whole different level Sunday, with Stenson tying a major championship record with an 8-under par 63 to close out the win, becoming Sweden’s first major champion.

Stenson ultimately finished at 20-under par, Mickelson at -17 and third-place J.B. Holmes 11 shots behind Mickelson at -6.

“It seemed like it was going to be a two-horse race, and it was all the way to the end,” Stenson said. “I knew he wasn’t going to back down at any point, and in a way that makes it easier for myself. I knew I had to keep on pushing, keep on giving myself birdie chances and he wasn’t going to give it to me, so I had to pull away.”StensonMickelson

Stenson’s final round was a thing of beauty, with crisp iron shots and birdie putts dropping from everywhere. After briefly giving up the lead with a bogey at the first, Stenson fired back with birdies at five of the next seven holes.

And for a fourth straight day, he was terrific on Troon’s much more difficult back nine. Five more birdies, including three in a row on holes 14-16 before a long putt at the 18th to finish things off in a 10-birdie round, made the 40-year-old a first-time major champion.

No less than Nicklaus himself took to social media Sunday to say that Stenson and Mickelson’s battle was even better than his and Watson’s, calling Stenson’s final-round 63 “one of the greatest rounds I’ve ever seen.”

Mickelson was almost as good on this day. The 46-year-old American started -5 through the first 10 holes, including an eagle at the 4th. But he could only manage one birdie the rest of the way as Stenson hit him with a barrage. His closing 65 still was the day’s second best score as he played the role of Nicklaus in this modern-day duel.

“It certainly crossed my mind a little bit out there today,” Mickelson, ever the historian, said in thinking back to Nicklaus vs. Watson. “I was certainly thinking about that. I know that I wanted to be more of a Tom in that case than Jack, but unfortunately … I understand how it feels. It’s bittersweet I guess.

StensonWinsOpen“I was just trying to birdie every hole and it seemed like he was. I was just trying to keep pace.”

And as golf headlines have been dominated by the young lions of the sport, players like Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, who still have not reached their 30th birthdays, this week came down to a pair of grizzled veterans that showed they still have something left in the tank.

“I think the experience and the way links golf plays, experience definitely plays a big part of it,” Stenson said. “Yeah, it was quite an old leaderboard for a change, I guess.”

Said Mickelson: “I don’t remember being in a match like that where we’ve separated ourselves from the field by so many strokes. I don’t think that’s happened that I can remember.”

It was a duel that will be remembered.

 

Picks

If you didn’t pick one of the two guys profiled above, you had a bad week. We had a bad week.

Dustin Johnson – The U.S. Open champion had his moments but a couple of huge mistakes derailed his chances to win the “other” tournament going on for third place. 2-under, tied for 9th

Alex Noren – We picked the wrong Swede this week. 6-over, tied for 46th

Graeme McDowell – After barely making the cut, his weekend wasn’t much better. 10-over, tied for 63rd

Hideki Matsuyama – Japan’s top player fell apart on his final nine Friday and didn’t reach the weekend. 8-over, missed the cut.

 

This week

The PGA Tour returns with the Canadian Open July 21-24. And with this summer’s condensed schedule, it’s the only stop before the season’s final major, the PGA Championship, July 28-31.

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