Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson look set for a head-to-head battle but there are enough talented players behind them to suggest the outcome might not be as predictable as that.
When the 40-year-old Swede arrived at Royal Troon he told the media he was acutely aware he only had 12-15 more chances to win the Major that has eluded him for so long. A few days later he might never have a better chance to break his duck and it has to be said it would be thoroughly deserved given everything else he has achieved in the game. Stenson has won at World Golf Championship level. He has ten European Tour and four PGA Tour titles to his name and won a whole host of friends thanks to his friendly demeanour and dry sense of humour. His date with destiny looms.
The American left-hander would be in exulted company if he won his second Claret Jug in the space of three years at Royal Troon. The victory would leave him tied alongside Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo with six Majors titles to his name and just one short of the total accumulated by Harry Vardon, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer. Mickelson has not dropped a single shot this week on Troon’s front nine and he will need a similarly fast start to keep pressure on the Swede. He has a slight mental advantage over Stenson in that he beat the Swede to the 2013 title but that was a slightly different scenario in that it wasn’t head-to-head. The statisticians among our readership might like to know a runner-up finish by Mickelson would be the eleventh in his Major career – one more that Arnold Palmer but still well short of Jack Nicklaus who claimed 19.
Haas goes into the final round five shots behind Mickelson, six adrift of Stenson and he gave a clear indication of his state of might when he said “I don’t think they will lose any sleep being chased by Bill Haas and Beef.” That’s probably a realistic assessment given that in recent times only Padraig Harrington in 2007 and Ernie Els in 2012 have come from six back to win although Paul Lawrie also made up a ten shot deficit to lift the Claret Jug at Carnoustie in 1999. There’s also the little matter of the 34-year-old American’s Major record. This is his 28th Major appearance but he has still to achieve a top-ten finish. This might well be the day.
Andrew “Beef” Johnston
It would be fair to say “Beef” has lit up a dreich week here in the west of Scotland and victory for the 27-year-old from North London would be very popular among those fans who like larger-than-life characters. He proved earlier this year he can handle demanding courses when he won the Spanish Open at Valderrama but it’s surely too much to ask that he can make up a seven shot deficit and win at Troon as well. Most of his fans would probably settle for another barnstorming performance with the usual interaction with their hero along the way.
The Best of the Rest
Charl Schwartzel is the closest Major winner to Stenson and Mickelson on the leaderboard but he is ten shots back. US Open champion Dustin Johnson is one shot further adrift so it’s tempting to suggest we’re in for a straightforward two-horse race. What stops us doing that are the vagaries of both the British weather and links golf itself. We can be reasonably sure someone will make a run at the leaders although how far they get is a matter of debate. JB Holmes and Steve Stricker look likely candidates and maybe big-hitting Tony Finau in what has been his first visit to The Open.