By Ann Liguori
» More Columns
Playing at Royal Troon in Scotland, the 46-year-old Mickelson, who won the Open in 2013 at Muirfield, hoped to capture his sixth major championship. At 40 years old, Stenson was still fighting to win his first major title in a long career that includes 11 European Tour wins and five PGA Tour titles. In 2013, the Swede won the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup and the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, becoming the first player to win both.
Their showdown emerged into a classic Ali vs. Frazier-type confrontation with the quality of jabs — the shots, the punches, the putts, the back and forth. It turned into the most entertaining final round I’ve ever watched.
The shot-for-shot showdown stirred up comparisons to Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry in 1977, nicknamed the “Duel in the Sun.” Watson shot a 65 for a one-stroke win over Nicklaus. As exciting as that final round was, Nicklaus said on his Facebook page that the Mickelson-Stenson duel was even better.
Stenson shot an 8-under 63, equaling the lowest 72-hole score in the history of major championship golf. (Johnny Miller shot that infamous 63 at Oakmont in the 1973 U.S. Open final round.)
Stenson’s 63 included a couple of 3-putt bogeys and 10 birdies, to compile a 20-under-par 264, which beat the 265 that David Toms set at the 2001 PGA Championship.
Mickelson shot a bogey-free, 6-under 65, and still finished three shots behind.
“It’s probably the best I’ve played and not won,” said Mickelson. “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.”
Stenson began the day with a one-shot lead. Mickelson birdied the first hole, while Stenson 3-putted for bogey. There was a two-shot swing on the first hole,and away we went.
What followed was near-flawless golf by both players, as each counter-attacked. Stenson was up by a shot after draining an 18-foot birdie on the 14th. And then on the 15th, Stenson pulled off the improbable and sank a 50-footer for birdie from off the green. Henrik was up by two with three holes to play.
And what a fitting finish it was for Stenson, as he birdied the final hole to complete his masterpiece and captured that elusive first major title.
It was the 11th time Mickelson has been a runner-up in a major. Nicklaus was runner-up 19 times in his storied career with 18 major titles.
Can Mickelson bounce back from the disappointment and play himself into contention at the PGA Championship at Baltusrol the last week in July? He won the title the last time it was there in 2005. Lefty has shown us that he’s capable of anything. I think he’ll continue to defy time. Now if only the golf gods would be a bit kinder to him.
Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori