It was one of those amazing golf stories.
Going into the final round of The Open Championship at Royal Troon in Scotland it was billed as Phil Mickelson versus Henrik Stenson.
Stenson had the lead at 12 under par by one shot from Mickelson on 11 under par. There was gap of six shots to the next best-placed player.
But so often when such battles are headlined they often fizzle out. One falls over and it turns into a one-horse race. Or both fall over and someone emerges from the pack to snatch victory.
But on this occasion it lived up to all the hype — and perhaps much more.
Stenson, with his familiar pursed lips expression when he hits the ball, posted a brilliant eight-under par of 63 to win by three shots. The 63 was the lowest final round in the 145-year history of The Open. The previous lowest had been 64 when Greg Norman won in 1993.
Stenson had rounds of 68, 65, 68 and 63 for a total of 264. That became the lowest total in the history of golf’s four majors. The previous lowest had been 265 registered by David Toms when he won the 2001 US PGA Championship.
Mickelson did not go down without a fight. He eagled the par-five fourth hole and was five-under par through 10 holes. One hole later Mickelson shared the lead when Stenson bogeyed the par-four 11th.
But this was truly Stenson’s day. He might have bogeyed two holes in the final round but at the same time he racked up an amazing 10 birdies on a course almost every other played struggled with.
It was a most deserving win in a major for Stenson. He had previously racked up four thirds and a second in majors.
Stenson had won the BMW International Open in Germany just three weeks earlier and he said that provided him with the confidence that he was at the top of his game.
``I felt like this was going to be my turn,’’ Stenson said.
``It’s not something you want to run around and shout but I felt like this was going to be my turn.
“It was great to get that win there (in Germany). That definitely helped this week, and I felt that extra confidence was going to be huge for me coming into this week.”
Stenson achieved his Open win at the age of 40 and became the oldest first-time major winner since Darren Clarke won The Open in 2011 at age 42.
Mickelson, 46, was already the winner of five majors including the 2013 Open when ironically Stenson was second.
Mickelson scored a final round of six-under par 65 which in most cases would be enough to win. He was disappointed not to win but not disappointed with the way he played.
“That’s probably the best I’ve played and not won,” Mickelson said.
“It’s disappointing but at least I don’t have to look back and regret something I’ve done. It was a challenging day but I’m happy for Henrik.
“He’s a really great champion. We’ve been friends for some time. I’ve always thought he was one of the best ball-strikers in the game and that major championships should suit him.
“I always knew he would ultimately come through and win. I’m happy that he did but disappointed he did it at my expense.”
Mickelson’s second place finish marked the 11th time he had been runner-up in a major and took him past Arnold Palmer on that list but still well behind Jack Nicklaus who has 19 seconds.
Stenson’s 20-under par for the tournament was the lowest in the history of The Open. The previous best was 19-under par by Tiger Woods in 2000.
His winning total in relation to par of 20 under also equals the lowest in major history, set by Jason Day at the 2015 US PGA Championship.
Stenson also becomes the first man from Sweden to win a major. But it’s nothing new for Swedish woman.
Swedish women have won 13 majors of which the exceptional Annika Sorenstam racked up 10. The other Swedish women major winners have been Helen Alfredsson, Liselotte Neumann and Anna Nordqvist.
Stenson earned 1.3 million euros for The Open win, which is about $NZ2 million. His career earnings on the European Tour are more than 23 million euros ($NZ36 million) while his career earnings on the PGA Tour in the United States are $US24 million ($NZ34 million). That’s a total of about $NZ70 million.
Those figures are tempered somewhat by the reported story Stenson lost $US8 million in a fraudulent ponzi scheme run by American financier Allen Stanford’s investment company. Stanford is now serving a prison sentence of 110 years.
Stenson once said of Stanford: “I never met Stanford and it’s safe to say I wont be visiting him in prison. If I did come face-to-face with him, then what I’d do to the guy could get me arrested also. I didn’t have all my eggs in his basket, but I had a lot of eggs in there and it hurt. It was a tough experience, but life has a way of setting things right.’’
It was one of those amazing golf stories.