Moments That Defined the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon
The defining narrative of the 2016 Open Championship was the weekend showdown between Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson after the pair had lapped the field at Royal Troon. A master's degree in journalism is not required to arrive at that low-hanging conclusion.
The result of the toe-to-toe battle was the moment you see pictured above: 40-year-old Henrik Stenson, the man who for so long seemed to be lacking major grit, kissing the Claret Jug.
However, to get to the freeze frame of the Swedish native planting one on golf's oldest major trophy, golf fans spoiled by a weekend of top-class play were presented with a series of tournament-defining moments.
Here they are.
Pre-Tournament Press Conference Fireworks
Discussed ad nauseam in the golf press over the past couple of days, one of the most significant moments in determining the outcome of The Open came when the R&A put together the groupings prior to the competition. Simply, golfers who played late Thursday and early Friday massively outperformed those who played early Thursday and late Friday.
After two rounds, the top 14 players on the leaderboard, including Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson, who pulverized the field, played late Thursday and early Friday. On the opposite side of the balance, golfers like Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler played early in the opening round and late Friday.
After two rounds, the best score from the "bad" side of the draw was Patrick Reed's two under par total—10 strokes off Stenson's pace.
It's difficult to contend when you're at such a significant weather disadvantage. What would be a similar situation in a different sport? Playing an opponent in basketball who was shooting into a wading-pool-sized basket while yours was of the traditional diameter? There's no way around the fact that many fates were sealed when tee times were posted.
Such is the luck of the draw.
Monty Hits the Opening Tee Shot
Fifty-three-year-old Colin Montgomerie was awarded the first tee time at Royal Troon, and he struck the first tee shot into the coastal Scottish morning air. Montgomerie, who grew up golfing at the Ayr track where his father was club secretary, last competed in an Open in 2010. He made the decision to try his hand at qualifying, and the veteran Scotsman earned a spot in the field.
Monty’s opening effort was a special one. And even though he went on to double-bogey the hole, the 49-time winner around the world recorded an even-par total. His four-over score through two rounds was good enough to make the weekend, and he earned himself a walk up the 72nd hole to bid adieu.
Special stuff for the best golfer of the past 20 years without a major title to his name.
Phil Mickelson's Run at 62
At 46, Phil Mickelson would have been on the short list of oldest major winners. Lefty didn’t do anything of note in the first two majors of the season, missing the cut at both in his bid for a sixth trophy from golf’s most significant tournaments.
Mickelson arrived at Troon on the heels of a top-15 finish at the Scottish Open, where he struggled with putting from distance, but he still cobbled together a respectable week. Even so, there was little indication that the left-hander would erupt in his opening round and would have hoisted the second Claret Jug of his career, were he not stymied by Henrik Stenson.
Mickelson made his way around Royal Troon on Thursday with eight birdies through 17 holes. The left-hander gave himself a chance at 62, but he lipped out a putt from 18 feet in the defining image of the first round (see the video above).
Mickelson's brilliant opening 63 foreshadowed the dart-throwing showdown that was to come between him and the 3-wood smashing Swede.
Failure to Launch for Golf's Top Four
On the wrong side of the weather, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson never really had a shot at winning the tournament. Still, none of the top four golfers in the Official World Golf Ranking ever made a serious run at Mickelson or Stenson.
Rory McIlroy finished tied for fourth, but he was 16 strokes off Henrik Stenson's record-setting pace. Dustin Johnson finished tied for ninth at two under. Spieth, who made the cut on the number, finished tied for 30th at two over. And world No. 1, Jason Day, carded a four-day total of one over, tied for 18th.
The precondition for the all-out sprint between Stenson and Mickelson was a number of thoroughbreds failing to get out of the gate. That truth hovered over the action and will rightfully frame things as the story of the 2016 Open Championship is written into the history books.
Rory McIlroy Tomahawks His Club
The frustration of the aforementioned inability to get off the tarmac was typified by one moment from the 145th Open Championship. Rory McIlroy was playing his second shot into the par-five 16th hole Saturday when, unhappy with the effort, he tomahawked his 3-wood into the fairway, resulting in the club head popping off.
Explaining what happened during his post-round press conference, McIlroy said: "I think it was just I let one go right on the previous hole, the 3-iron, and I did the exact same thing there. So it was basically just a bad swing. No one likes to make the same mistake twice, and that's basically what happened.''
On a more symbolic level, however, McIlroy spiked the club on behalf of a handful of top players who never had a shot due to their tee times: Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson and more.
McIlroy, the best of the top-tier talent on the wrong side of the draw, ultimately finished tied for fifth—a mere 15 strokes behind Henrik Stenson.
Frustrating stuff, indeed.
Sidebar: Thomas Pieters did one better than McIlroy after frustrations of his own on the 11th hole Sunday.
The "Beef" Chant Is Born
While he didn’t ultimately raise the trophy at Royal Troon, Andrew “Beef” Johnston had something of a "John Daly at Crooked Stick" moment in Scotland this week. As he continued to hang around the top of the leaderboard Saturday, the chorus of “Beef!” chants from The Open faithful grew with each passing hole, with the burly golfer receiving hearty cheers and chants as he finished his third round.
And by the time he tapped in for his final-round 73 to finish tied for eighth a day later, the fans had added "Moo!" to the equation from the sounds of things on the telecast (mimicking the sound made by, well, what beef comes from).
Affable, accessible, distinctly "non-golfer" looking, "average bloke," Johnston is a sensation. And even better, he can play! Beef has been cooking all season, but with his weekend effort at Troon, he's been served up to his largest audience yet.
The Duel: Part 1
The Mickelson vs. Stenson slugfest started on Saturday with the pair separated by a stroke at 12 and 11 under par, respectively. Over the course of the afternoon, the lead shifted four times, with Mickelson saving par in inspired fashion and Stenson looking every bit the Terminator after which he is nicknamed.
Stenson eventually got the upper hand with superior play on the back-nine par threes and a tidy par save at the 18th hole for a third-round 68. Mickelson was two off his playing partner's pace with 70.
In his press conference after the round, the Swede offered the following bit of hype and foreshadowing regarding his Sunday date with Mickelson: "I know he's not going to back down, and I'm certainly going to try to not back down, either. So it should be an exciting afternoon. ... I've worked hard these first three days to put myself in this situation and I'm going to try my hardest tomorrow to finish the job."
"Trying his hardest" resulted in tying the lowest final round in major championship history and tying Jason Day's score-to-par record in a major. But that came after the second day of what was effectively match play between the two.
The Duel, Part 2: Stenson's Record Putt
Henrik Stenson began the final round a stroke ahead of Phil Mickelson at 12 under par. After an opening-hole bogey, the pair were tied, the fight scoring even on the cards.
Back and forth they went, each man playing brilliantly, until Henrik Stenson walked in a 51-foot putt at at the 15th hole, effectively icing The Open for the Iceman. And on the 72nd hole when Stenson's name was already being engraved into the Claret Jug, he again poured in a lengthy putt (video above). This time the put was to tie Johnny Miller's final-round major scoring record of 63—the cherry on top of a round sweet beyond imagination.
"A 65 in the final round of a major is usually good enough to win," Mickelson said of his own performance in his press conference, adding about his opponent, "I always thought he would come through with a win. I'm sorry that it came at my expense." The left-hander's final round was two strokes better than anyone else in the field. Unfortunately, Stenson was two strokes better than him.
According to the AP's Doug Ferguson, the slugfest was "heavyweight material, reminiscent of the 'Duel in the Sun' just down the Ayrshire coastline at Turnberry in 1977, when Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus battled right down to the final hole, and no one else was closer than 10 shots."
The comparison is apt. The only problem: "Duel under overcast skies" just doesn't have quite the same ring to it.