Henrik Stenson felt it was “my time” as he emerged triumphant in a titanic two-day battle with Phil Mickelson to win the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon, becoming the first Scandinavian golfer to claim a men’s major.
In a compelling head-to-head contest that matched the famous “Duel in the Sun” between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry in 1977, the 40-year-old Swede produced a breathtaking, record-breaking performance to finish three shots clear of 2013 winner Mickelson, with another American, JB Holmes, a further 11 strokes back in third place after the last round became a two-horse race.
Stenson is the first player to claim the Claret Jug with a closing 63 – it contained ten birdies after starting with a bogey – and just the second in the game’s four majors after Johnny Miller, who achieved that feat when he was crowned US Open champion at Oakmont in 1973.
His winning 20-under-par 264 total is also the lowest in the majors, beating the previous best at Royal Troon, set by Justin Leonard in 1997, by eight shots, and is also a new best in this event in relation to par, beating Tiger Woods’ tally at St Andrews in 2000 by one.
“It hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but I’m very happy and very proud of the way I played,” said Stenson, who had finished second to Mickelson at Muirfield three years ago in his previous best performance in golf’s most prestigious event.
“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.
“I knew I had to keep on pushing, keep on giving myself birdie chances. 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 [he holed 20-foot and 50-foot birdie putts at the 14th and 15th] at the right time on the final stretch.
“It’s not something you want to run around and shout, but I felt like this was going to be my turn. I knew I was going to have to battle back if it wasn’t, but I think that was the extra self-belief that made me go all the way this week.”
His previous victories include the WGC Match Play, the Players’ Championship and the Tour Championship, the latter helping him win the FedEx Cup in 2013, the same year he was victorious in the Race to Dubai. This, though, was the day Stenson had been hoping he’d experience since he took up golf at the age of 11.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “As a young kid, the Ryder Cup and the Open were the big early memories I had. So to sit there and hold this trophy is really amazing. But we’re only just getting started. Once you open the floodgates, you never know what might happen.”
Mickelson, who closed with a bogey-free 65 after opening with a 63 in Ayrshire, admitted to feeling “disappointment” but was gracious in defeat. “I got beat by ten birdies,” said the five-time major winner. “I’m happy for Henrik. He’s really a great champion.”
Admitting that memories of the “Duel in the Sun” had been on his mind during the thrilling title tussle between the pair, the 46-year-old added: “I wanted to be more of Tom in that case than Jack, but, unfortunately, I understand how it feels [to finish runner-up]. It’s bittersweet, I guess.”
Despite unseasonal weather on three of the four days, the event’s ninth staging at Troon attracted a total attendance of 176,410, which was under 3,000 down on the totals here in both 1997 and 2004.