Game 41 of The Open started promptly at 2:35 p.m. Sunday. Henrik Stenson of Sweden and Phil Mickelson of America. The leader and the legend. The 40-year-old in search of his first major tournament and the 46-year old in search of his sixth.
Game 41 had considerably more games, although the other 40 had their meanings. It had history in its gallery. It had all eyes on it. Mickelson and Stenson were the power couple. Everyone else was elevator music.
There’s been lots of talk about the golf gods this week at Royal Troon. By saying out loud what he had said to himself as Sunday approached and Stenson, who had been tormented by those same golf gods throughout his distinguished career, didn’t dare anger them: He was going to win The Open.
Phil Mickelson was runner up at The Open.
Hours later, as a gentle Scottish evening replaced the rain and winds of the previous days, Stenson did as assured. He won the 145th Open and did so with major championship pressure attached.
He posted a final-round 63 to win a major, just the second player in history to do so. And he defeated the great Mickelson, who must be wondering how he shot rounds of 69, 63, 70 and a Sunday 65 — and lost by 3 shots.
It was “Duel In The Sun”, vintage Tom Watson vs. Jack Nicklaus in the final round of the 1977 Open. Watson and Nicklaus played at Turnberry, just 20 miles down the road from Royal Troon.
Watson surpassed Nicklaus in what’s long been considered the finest closing round in golf history.
How great was it?
Asked if he was having flashbacks to his Open duel with Nicklaus, Watson said, “Very similar. And great theater.”
And Nicklaus had saw too, spellbound by it. “Mickelson played one of the best rounds I’ve ever seen in The Open,” he said in a statement.
It was excellent “everything”. Great play. Great pressure. Great performances.
Mickelson and Stenson have played professional golf for a combined 42 years. When Mickelson made a point to walk over to the glass case that held the Claret Jug off the first tee box, he kissed his fingers and placed them on the glass.
It was of saying hello again after winning The Open at Muirfield in 2013, Mickelson’s way of paying homage. He needed it back.
Stenson had come close too. He’d had five top-three finishes in majors. But who understood it would require a 63 and 10 birdies to meet the guarantee.
You could see a particular degree of shock in both of their faces when it was done. Mickelson had played amazing golf, good enough in almost any other Open to leave here with that little silver jug. But this wasn’t any other Open.
Mickelson walked from the 18th green and into the scorer’s trailer just to the side of the Royal Troon clubhouse. It was time. No matter how many times he added up the numbers, his final-round 65 was not enough.
Mickelson’s longtime caddie, Jim Mackay, who’d shed tears of happiness when Mickelson won in 2013 at Muirfield, waited outside. His face was clean, as if he could not quite believe what he’d observed.
A second after, Jordan Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller, approached Mackay. Although Spieth had completed his round hours earlier, Greller had desired to pay his regards.
“Hey, man, helluva week,” said Greller, as he embraced Mackay. “That was notable.”
Greller knew. Everyone knew. The 35,637 watchers who’d come to Royal Troon on Sunday. . .
It was Mickelson who told Stenson that the Swede would one day win a major. That day almost occurred in 2013, when Stenson finished second to Mickelson. Three years after, the places on the leaderboard were rescinded.
Stenson will forever cherish his memories of Game 41. Afterward, he taken the Claret Jug from interview to interview.
Mickelson will forever wonder how he didn’t win on Sunday. He played near-flawless golf, and it wasn’t good enough. But the truth is, there is no disgrace in this runner-up finish — his 11th in majors.
Observed Sunday’s closing round in person, who to those 35,637 like to offer one piece of advice:
Save the ticket stubs.