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Saturday 10 December 2016

Stenson's Open joy

Swede keeps his nerve to deny Mickelson and claim his first major title

Sweden’s Henrik Stenson kisses the Claret Jug
Sweden’s Henrik Stenson kisses the Claret Jug

Sweden's Henrik Stenson created history as he claimed his first major title after coming out on top in a sensational shootout with former champion Phil Mickelson to win the 145th British Open Championship.

Stenson carded a closing 63 at Royal Troon to become only the second player ever to finish a major on 20 under par, equalling the record set by Jason Day in last year's US PGA Championship.

The 40-year-old produced a staggering display to record 10 birdies and two bogeys to beat the Open record of 19 under set by Tiger Woods in 2000, as well as firing only the second 63 in the final round of a major by the eventual winner after Johnny Miller in the 1973 US Open at Oakmont.

Stenson's 72-hole total of 264 also beat the best in any major set by David Toms in the 2001 US PGA and was three lower than the previous Open record set by Greg Norman at Sandwich in 1993.

Mickelson, who had beaten Stenson into second place to lift the Claret Jug at Muirfield in 2013, had to settle for second place on 17 under despite a flawless final round of 65, with American JB Holmes an amazing 11 shots further adrift in third.

Although the weather could not match the heatwave for the epic contest between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus at nearby Turnberry in 1977, the golf certainly revived memories of the 'Duel in the Sun' as the final pair combined for 13 birdies and an eagle.

Stenson had started the day with a one-shot lead, only to three-putt the opening hole from just short of the green after Mickelson had already fired his approach to within two feet.

The resulting birdie took Mickelson to the top of the leaderboard and he almost chipped in for another on the second, but it was Stenson who found the bottom of the cup from 15 feet to draw level.

Another birdie from similar distance on the next restored Stenson's overnight advantage, only for Mickelson to hole from eight feet for an eagle on the fourth.

Stenson two-putted from long range there for his third straight birdie and the pair traded birdies on the par-five sixth to remain tied for the lead, before world number six Stenson edged in front again with a birdie on the eighth.

Tangling

Looking to become Sweden's first male major champion after seven top-four finishes, Stenson rolled in his sixth birdie in the space of nine holes on the 10th, but Mickelson crucially followed him in from eight feet.

The pair were tied for the lead again when Stenson three-putted the 11th and Mickelson ensured he stayed on level terms by holing from 18 feet for par on the next after twice tangling with the thick rough.

For the second day running and for the third time this week, Stenson birdied the par-three 14th to edge ahead once more, Mickelson having missed his long-range attempt.

Stenson's approach to the 15th only just found the right-hand edge of the green, but from around 50 feet he holed the birdie putt to claim a two-shot lead for the first time.

Mickelson was not about to throw in the towel and hit a superb approach to the par-five 16th, but after his eagle putt agonisingly slipped across the front of the hole, Stenson holed from four feet for birdie - having missed the green with his second - to remain two ahead with two to play.

An historic 62 was even on the cards after a superb tee shot on the 17th, but after missing the birdie attempt there, Stenson made no such mistake on the 18th to bring a fitting end to an astonishing day.

"Wow, this will take a little while to sink in," said Stenson.

"I am just still trying to find my bearings a little bit.

"I'd like to thank Phil for a fantastic battle, we played some great golf and I am delighted to come out on top but thank you very much for a great fight.

"I want to thank my wife, my family, my team for all their support and for all their hard work, the fans, the R&A and my caddie Gareth Lord.

"I lost a dear friend (Mike Gerbich) on Wednesday morning after battle against cancer and I feel like he was with me. He was a keen golfer, Mike this one is for you."

Stenson added: "I know playing against Phil he is never going to ease off.

"In a small way it made it easy as I knew he would not back away.

Close

"But I felt like it was my time. You can't guarantee it by any means and I had to play some great golf to get there."

On what Mickelson said to him at the close, Stenson added: "We have played so many rounds together this year he told me earlier in the season I was deserving of a major championship and I said to him 'You'll probably not like it if you are on the end of it' but I want to thank him for a great couple of days.

"I am delighted to have made it for Sweden and for all the other guys (Swedes who came close) before."

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