Planet Golf — 17 July 2016 by GW staff and news services
A look back at a terrific Open at Troon

TROON, Scotland – A few observations from the final round of The Open Championship, where Henrik Stenson tied a major championship mark with a final-round 63 to capture his first major title at Royal Troon. Stenson finished at 20 under, three ahead of Phil Mickelson.

Mickelson has made mistakes in majors that led to heartbreaking losses.

This one stung because he played so well.

Mickelson started Sunday at The Open Championship one stroke off the lead. He shot a bogey-free 65 in the final round, but finished three shots behind Stenson.

On Thursday, a lip-out on 18 cost Mickelson the first 62 in major history. He was on the other side of Stenson’s 63 on Sunday. Stenson matched the low final round by a major winner, tying Johnny Miller’s famed final round at the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont.

The golf gods were especially cruel to Mickelson this week.

“I had to make 30-, 40-footers just to try to keep pace with him, and (I) wasn’t able to do it there in the end,” Mickelson said.

Stenson set several records to win this memorable duel. Stenson’s 264 was the lowest 72-hole score in major history, and his 20-under total matched the lowest major score in relation to par.

Mickelson’s 267 matched the lowest 72-hole score in an Open Championship, at least until Stenson signed his card.

“I played a bogey-free round of 65 on the final round of a major,” Mickelson said. “Usually that’s enough to do it, and I got beat. I got beat by 10 birdies. It’s not like other guys were out there doing the same thing. It was a challenging day.”

Rory McIlroy had the low score of the final day, a 4-under 67, until Stenson and Mickelson, playing in the final group for the second consecutive day, finished their rounds.

This was Mickelson’s 11th runner-up finish in a major, surpassing Arnold Palmer for second on the all-time list. (Jack Nicklaus has 19 runners-up in majors). Mickelson was trying to become the oldest major champion since Jack Nicklaus at the 1986 Masters. He knows he can’t contend forever, which adds to the pain.

“It’s not like I have decades left of opportunities to win majors, so each one means a lot to me,” said Mickelson, 46. “And I put in my best performance today. (I) played close to flawless golf and was beat.”

Mickelson and Stenson were tied with five holes remaining. Stenson made birdie on four of the final holes, including a 50-foot birdie putt from off the green at the 15th hole. He got up-and-down from thick rough to birdie the par-5 16th hole and Mickelson’s 30-foot eagle putt barely missed the hole. Stenson holed a 20-footer at the final hole to match Miller for the best final round by a major winner.

Mickelson has had a resurgent season after switching to swing coach Andrew Getson in the offseason, but he’s still looking for his first win after a handful of close calls. Mickelson now has three runners-up and a third-place finish this season. Mickelson was seeking his first victory since the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield.

Royal Troon is located just 25 miles north of Turnberry, where another one of golf’s famed final-round showdowns took place. The “Duel in the Sun,” the 1977 face-off between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, was on everyone’s mind as they witnessed Stenson and Mickelson go toe-to-toe. Even Mickelson found himself thinking about it on the course.

Mickelson finished 11 shots ahead of third-place finisher J.B. Holmes. That is the most strokes between the top two golfers and third place in a major since 1958, the year the PGA Championship switched to stroke play. The previous high? Ten strokes, at that 1977 Open Championship. Hubert Green finished 10 shots behind Jack Nicklaus, who lost to Tom Watson by one shot.

“I know that I wanted to be more of Tom in that case than Jack, but unfortunately I understand how it feels,” Mickelson said. “It’s bittersweet.”

Rory McIlroy’s chance to win The Open ended halfway through this week, after he played in the toughest conditions to hit Royal Troon.

McIlroy was 2 under par after 36 holes; he was 10 shots behind leader Mickelson, but also had the best score among the players who teed off Friday afternoon, when the course was hit by high winds and rain. As is often the case at The Open Championship, the luck of the draw had an impact on the final outcome.

McIlroy finished fifth at 4-under 280 (69-71-73-67). He tied with Tyrrell Hatton and Sergio Garcia. McIlroy started the week at No. 36 in the FedExCup with five top-10 finishes in 12 starts.

“After the second day, I was never going to win this golf tournament,” McIlroy said. “The goal (was) to finish as high up as I could this week. I was going out there with the goal of trying to get world ranking points, trying to get Race to Dubai points, FedExCup points. … I sort of forgot about the Claret Jug and just tried to focus on finishing as high as I can.”

McIlroy, who won the Irish Open in late May, will arrive at the PGA Championship seeking his first major since the 2014 PGA. He also won The Open Championship in 2014; this was his first Open Championship since that win after he missed the 2015 tournament at St. Andrews because of an ankle injury.

McIlroy isn’t the only big name who left Royal Troon on a high note. Jordan Spieth shot 68 on Sunday to finish 30th at 2-over 286 (71-75-72-68). This was Spieth’s first under-par round in a major since the first round of the Masters.

Spieth, who’s won twice this season, started the week at No. 4 in the FedExCup. He also was in the tougher half of The Open’s draw. “(I) gained some momentum today, saw a couple putts go in from outside 6 feet,” Spieth said. “(I) made probably three or four of them today from that range.”

Steve Stricker almost didn’t play in The Open Championship because its final round conflicted with his wedding anniversary. He did, and now he earned a return trip to the Masters with his fourth-place finish.

Stricker shot 5-under 279 (67-75-68-69) to finish alone in fourth; the top four finishers in The Open Championship are invited to the following year’s Masters. Stricker, the 2017 Presidents Cup captain, will be 50 at next year’s Masters. This week’s finish also earned him a trip to next year’s Open Championship.

“If you would have told me heading into the week I’d have a legitimate chance to finish in the top five, I don’t know if I would have believed you,” Stricker said.

Stricker made 17 pars in Friday’s tough conditions. He also had a quadruple-bogey at the par-4 15th, though.

He earned his spot at Royal Troon via the Open Qualifying Series after finishing second at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in June.

J.B. Holmes had missed the cut in five of his previous seven appearances at The Open Championship. This year’s trip to Scotland didn’t get off to the best start, either. His clubs got lost on the trip across the Atlantic and he shot a first-round 80 at the Scottish Open before missing the cut.

Holmes left Royal Troon Golf Club with the best Open Championship finish of his career. He shot 6-under 278 (70-70-69-69) to finish third.

“Thankfully, I think I used all my bad luck up last week,” Holmes said.

This was his second top-five in a major this season. He finished fourth at the Masters. Those were the first two major top-10s of his career.

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