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History of The Open

Royal Troon Revisited 2016


Stenson prevails in epic showdown

2016 Champion Golfer Henrik Stenson poses with the Claret Jug at Royal Troon

When the two men involved in the most famous head-to-head battle in Open history say they have finally been bested, you know something truly special must have occurred.

The epic ‘Duel In The Sun’ between Jack Nicklaus and eventual winner Tom Watson in 1977 has gone down in sporting folklore.

No final round had come close to matching the drama, the quality and sheer determination on display at a scorching Turnberry that momentous July day.

That was until Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson were paired together for an epic shootout at Royal Troon in 2016.

“They scored better than we did," said Nicklaus. "They played better,” concurred Watson.

Indeed, Stenson and Mickelson treated spectators to an afternoon of utterly majestic golf.

Mickelson went round in 65 while Stenson, the eventual Champion, scored a record-equalling 63 on his way to a low aggregate score of 20-under-par.

This was the ‘Duel Of The ‘Sons’.

Colin Montgomerie hits the opening tee shot at The 145th Open at Royal Troon in 2016

Monty was given the honour of hitting the first shot in 2016

Mission accomplished for Monty

“When I started out for this Open [campaign], qualifying was one thing,” said Colin Montgomerie. “Making the cut was the next goal.”

‘Monty’, who grew up in a house in view of Troon’s 1st tee, had the honour of getting The 145th Open under way in front of a packed grandstand.

Beginning with a rare double bogey on a course he knows better than any other, the fan favourite rallied to achieve his aim of making the weekend.

“That experience I had at Troon was something that will always live with me,” he said afterwards.

“Having had that experience I would like a little more of it, and I look forward to trying to qualify again.”

Champion Golfer in 2013, Phil Mickelson pushed Henrik Stenson all the way at Royal Troon three years later.

Mickelson and his putt for history

Magic Mickelson

After a scintillating opening round, 2013 Champion Mickelson was just a few short blades of grass away from shooting the lowest round in major championship history.

Beginning his 23rd Open campaign on a calm and sunny Thursday afternoon, Mickelson admitted he felt under pressure to make the most of these perfect conditions by getting as low as he possibly could.

He started brightly, nailing a 20ft birdie putt on the 2nd, setting the tone for a barnstorming round. Further birdies followed at holes 4, 6 and 8, allowing him to make the turn in 32.

Mickelson kept up the momentum at the 10th, before three more birdies dropped at the 14th, 16th and 17th – after "one of the best 4-irons I’ve ever hit" – leaving him on the cusp of history. He needed just one more birdie to make a 62, a total no man had achieved in any major championship at that point.

He left himself a 25ft putt for immortality. His stroke was firm and true and the ball looked in as soon as it left his flat stick. It teased the edge of the cup but, agonisingly, refused to drop.

“It was one of the best rounds I’ve ever played, and yet I want to shed a tear right now,” was how Mickelson summed up his feelings to the media afterwards.

Nevertheless, his superb 63 left him atop the leaderboard, three shots clear at the end of day one, and being chased by a pack of compatriots.

Super Saturday

Stenson had produced the round of day two – a smooth 65, which reigning Champion Zach Johnson referred to as “a pretty flawless day” – to move to nine-under-par, while Mickelson himself enjoyed a solid second-round 69 to stay in front on 10-under.

These impressive scores led to the duo being paired together for round three. And the beginning of a titanic tussle.

Stenson birdied the 1st to draw level with Mickelson at the earliest opportunity. Two further birdies over the next three holes suddenly put the Swede in charge.

Mickelson knew he was in for a fight and was equal to it, recovering well to reclaim a two-shot lead by the 13th. 

Stenson birdied 14 only for Mickelson to inexplicably bogey from three feet, meaning a two-shot swing and a level ‘match’ once more.

Henrik Stenson in action at The 145th Open, at Royal Troon in 2016

The duo arrived at the 17th, where Associated Press’ Doug Ferguson picks up the story.

“The degree of difficulty was off the charts,” he said of the devilish par-3.

“For Henrik to have to hit a flat out 3-iron to where he did, and to make the putt for a two on that hole makes it probably the most important shot of the tournament.”

It was a birdie that moved the 40-year-old onto 12-under-par, handing him the 54-hole lead.

“I’ve always been a pretty good match player,” said Stenson, rather ominously.

A Sunday to savour

At the start of the final day Stenson led Mickelson by one stroke and was six clear of Bill Haas in third. And, just as Watson and Nicklaus did in 1977, the two soon pulled further clear of the field.

‘Lefty’ flew out of the blocks, birdieing the 1st. A bogey for Stenson meant another two-shot swing. It was the first blow of what quickly turned into a final-day prize fight.

Stenson shook it off and got the shot back at the very next hole with a 12ft birdie, forcing Mickelson to drop a shot of his own. Another Stenson birdie arrived at the 3rd.

“It was pretty obvious after four holes nobody was going to catch us,” said Mickelson.

Before long they were streets clear of the rest and all tied at 16-under-par with just seven to play.

Henrik Stenson lines up a putt at Royal Troon in 2016

Stenson edged ahead once more before firing a stunning salvo at 15; a mammoth long-range putt to pull two clear with just three to play.

“The adrenaline when that [ball] hit the bottom of the cup was amazing,” he said.

Mickelson missed by millimetres what could have been a Championship-saving eagle putt on 16.

Stenson held his nerve for the final two holes to claim his maiden major title, with a birdie on 18 giving him a final total of 20-under, the lowest score to par in major history.

“We put our arms around each other and thanked each other for a great battle,” Stenson said of his sparring partner.

Phil Mickelson (left) and Henrik Stenson embrace after the latter wins an epic Open showdown at Royal Troon in 2016.

'Dear Henrik...'

The parallels with 1977 were obvious – and not lost on one of Turnberry’s key protagonists.

"I got a handwritten note from Jack [Nicklaus]," revealed Stenson. "That [was] very humbling.

"He thought it was the best round of golf he’s ever seen."

Few could argue with The Golden Bear’s assessment.

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