Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson delivered perhaps the greatest two-horse race in major championship history at Royal Troon on Sunday, with Mickelson shooting a bogey-free, 6-under-65 – only to finish second to Stenson, who made 10 birdies, shot an 8-under-63 and finished with a 20-under-264 to win his first major.
“We saw what could have been the best final round ever in the history of major championships,” Sirius XM host and British Open radio reporter Matt Adams said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “The front nine is where you do your scoring. The back nine – 10 and 11 are the two most brutal holes I think I’ve ever seen one after the other. I like the fact that it was such a consummate links experience from the fans’ perspective.”
Stenson, who had five top-three finishes at majors before Sunday, dominated Royal Troon for much of the weekend. His 63 on Sunday matched Johnny Miller’s 1973 performance at Oakmont for the lowest final-round score by a major champion.
There’s do denying how the 40-year-old Stenson did it, either.
“The difference with him this year was putting,” Adams said. “It was really straightforward. He hit 78 percent of the greens, which was an incredible percentage because of the winds out there and the way the golf course was playing. But the difference with Henrik is that he used to get nervy on the greens, and he wasn’t nervy at all. He had this sense that he was destined to win this Open Championship no matter what Phil Mickelson did, and he went out there and believed and trusted himself.”
Stenson birded the final hole from 20 feet to cap his historic day.
“Putting is like a window into the soul,” Adams said. “You can tell when players get nervy on the green that they’re dealing with some scar tissue – and he wasn’t. Whatever demons were there, he had vanquished. He went out there and did exactly what he knew he was capable of doing. It was really impressive.”
Mickelson, meanwhile, was seeking his sixth major championship but has now finished runner-up at 11 majors. He dazzled with an opening-round 63 last Thursday and finished minus-17 for the weekend. No one, other than Stenson, was better than minus-6.
“If Phil Mickelson had won, it would have been a great win for golf fans,” Adams said. “It would have been great for the game of golf in the United States, but Mickelson’s already won so many major championships that everybody would have said, ‘Okay, Phil Mickelson pretty much did what we thought that he was capable of and thought that he would do. But when Henrik did it, what happens is now you have the first major champion from Sweden. He’s going to emerge as not only a star in the Nordic countries, but he’s also going to be a star throughout Europe. This is a Ryder Cup year on top of that. So these are the things that actually help grow the game.”