It says something about what went on Sunday at Royal Troon when a five-time major champion such as Phil Mickelson fires his lowest final round score in a major and it isn’t enough.
Mickelson finished an epic duel with a bogey-free 65, but Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, who had a one-shot lead coming into Sunday’s play, joined Johnny Miller as the only players ever to fire a 63 in the final round of a major.
“Right now I’m running on adrenaline, but there will be some point when I’ll struggle to make it up the stairs when I get back to the house, I’m sure,” said Stenson
At 20 under, the lowest 72-hole score in major history, Stenson beat Mickelson by three for his first major championship. It also says something about Stenson’s play if you consider that Mickelson’s 17-under total would have won 140 of the previous 144 editions of the British Open.
“It’s probably the best I’ve played and not won,” said Mickelson.
“I think that’s probably why it’s disappointing in that I don’t have a point where I can look back and say, `I should have done that or had I only done this.’” he added.
“I played a bogey-free round of 65 on the final round of a major. Usually, that’s good enough to do it and I got beat,” he said.
“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,” said Mickelson.
The fact that J.B. Holmes finished third, 14 shots behind Stenson, illustrates nicely how the final round of the Open Championship was match play for the Claret Jug.
“It was a great match with Phil. It seemed like it was going to be a two-horse race and it was all the way to the end. I knew he wasn’t going to back down at any point and, in a way, that makes it easier for myself,” said Stenson.
“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. I’m just delighted I managed to do that with a couple of birdies at the right time on the final stretch,” he added.
Mickelson struck first with a birdie on the par four first, which Stenson bogeyed to make it a two-shot swing that left Mickelson once again on top.
Tripping out of the gate didn’t faze Stenson who replied with three consecutive birdies, including the fourth, which Mickelson hit his second shot to five feet and eagled to draw even at 14 under.
Both birdied the par five sixth to push their leading total to 15 under, an incredible eight shots ahead of the rest of the field.
Stenson birdied the eighth to make the turn with a one-shot lead and both players traded birdies on 10.
A bogey on 11 brought Stenson back into a tie with Mickelson at 16 under, but he rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt on the par three 14th to take the lead again.
That would be the beginning of three consecutive birdies, including a 50-foot birdie putt from off the green on 15 by Stenson. On 16, Mickelson added another birdie on 16, which he nearly eagled, and Stenson knew he needed to reply.
“The putt on 16 was huge. I mean, Phil missed his eagle putt, so it looked like it was going to go in and I expect him to make every putt – you have to – and it just snuck by and I’m standing over a five-footer down the hill. That was a very important putt to make,” he said.
Stenson put an exclamation mark on his first major by rolling in a 20-foot birdie putt on 18.
There were no Canadians in the field.
Click here for the final leaderboard.