The Open Championship 2016: Biggest Winners and Losers from Royal Troon
The winners and losers from Royal Troon this year were determined in large part by the elements and the luck of the draw, which is, in a sense, as it should be at The Open Championship.
Both Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson, stars of the final-round drama from Troon, found themselves on the right side of the weather. And the pair took advantage of the best scoring opportunities, rolling in birdies at a breakneck pace through three rounds on the way to a Sunday showdown for the ages that began with them five clear of the field.
As spectators to two of the most superb four-day performances in major championship history, which saw Stenson fire a record 20-under 264 to beat Mickelson by three strokes, we were all winners.
Who else was lucky enough to be on the right side of the ledger? Read on for the winners and losers from the 145th Open Championship.
Winner: Late, Early Draw
A glance at The Open leaderboard after two rounds showed the top 14 players all played late on Thursday and early on Friday. And few of the 26 golfers under par entering the weekend were traversing Troon’s windswept fairways, getting pelted by intermittent sheets of rain Friday afternoon.
We’re used to golfers getting the better side of the draw in Open Championships; rarely, however, is the disparity between the “good” and “bad” sides so extreme.
Players who were lucky enough to tee it late-early included Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Soren Kjeldsen, Keegan Bradley and Zach Johnson. By the end of the third round, no golfer who got caught out in the elements late the previous day was in better position than Patrick Reed, at two under...a mere 10 strokes behind Stenson.
In other words, nobody on the wrong side of the draw ever really had a shot. And while not everyone on the good side of things availed themselves, they were at least afforded the opportunity to, say, shoot 63 (as Mickelson did Thursday) or 65 (as Stenson did Friday).
Loser: Early, Late Draw
When the dust settled—or the rains passed and winds subsided, as may be the case—the golfers on the wrong side of the draw found themselves all but out of contention entering moving day, despite some determined efforts.
On the opposite side of the balance were the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler. While it could be argued that some members of this catalogue—Spieth in particular—didn’t have their best stuff, the reality is it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
Regarding his bad luck, Spieth said in a press conference:
We might have caught the rough end of the draw. That happens. Kind of shook it off to an extent at the end of the round. Just tried to smile, tried to enjoy the fact that you don't play in this often. You wish your score didn't matter when you play in this. You wish this was just a round with your buddies where you go into the clubhouse and have one or seven pints afterwards. ... But I did what I could at the end. It's just as hard to hit a fairway with an iron as it is a driver right now. It may as well be up closer to the green playing the next shot.
McIlroy voiced similar sentiments in his press conference: "It's The Open Championship. Some draws go your way, and some draws don't. I'm not going to let being on the wrong side ruin my mood or ruin my week.”
He may have been feeling differently Saturday when he tomahawked his 3-wood following a poor shot from the fairway. But at that point, he was really just blowing off steam on behalf of all those on the unlucky half of the equation.
Tough stuff, but 'tis The Open.
Winner: Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson, playing in his 24th Open Championship, was already going to be a winner for his inspired opening-round run at major golf’s unattainable: 62. Lefty had a 16-footer for birdie at the 18th in his opening round. The ball, which looked to be curling into the cup, took a right turn in the final foot, lipping agonizingly out.
"It was one of the best rounds I've ever played...and yet I want to shed a tear right now," Mickelson said in a press conference. "That putt on 18 was an opportunity to do something historical. I knew it, and with a foot to go I thought I had done it. I saw that ball rolling right in the center. I went to go get it. I had that surge of adrenaline that I had just shot 62, and then I had the heartbreak that I didn't."
The opening-round eight-under 63 put the five-time major winner in the driver's seat, and he followed up his course-record score with a respectable 69 amid intermittent showers and without his best stuff. Saturday saw him bogey both back-nine par threes to enter the final round a stroke behind Henrik Stenson.
"I didn't have my best stuff," Mickelson said in his press conference after the round. "I was a little bit jumpy, and my rhythm wasn't very good. It could have been a day that got away from me, so I'm proud of that."
To say Mickelson, who couldn't match Stenson on Sunday, was anything less than brilliant would do the golfer a disservice: He didn't bogey a hole and shot 65. The Swede was merely better. Indeed, from a scoring standpoint, he was the best ever in a major championship.
There's no way Mickelson is anything other than a winner this week.
Losers: The Big Three
Entering the tournament, a straw poll of the players most expected to hoist the Claret Jug would certainly have discovered many mentions of the names Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day.
Surprising, then, that none of golf’s Big Three made a serious run at the top of the leaderboard, although all three were on the wrong side of the draw.
Day opened with a two-over 73 and followed up with rounds of 70 and 71 to find himself 13 strokes behind Stenson entering the final round. McIlroy, who did good work Thursday with a two-under 69, followed with a second-round 71 and a third-round 73 to land at even par after three rounds, well off Stenson’s pace. Spieth made the cut on the number, playing the worst golf of the trio to find himself at five over par after three rounds.
And if we’re allowing for a Big Four, with Dustin Johnson rounding out the quartet, the group didn’t end up looking much better. D.J. started his final round 11 strokes behind Stenson—not exactly within striking distance.
Both McIlroy and Johnson finished inside the top 10, but neither was within 16 shots of Stenson's surreal finish.
Again, none of the aforementioned were treated with any mercy by Mother Nature, so dissecting their performances is something of an exercise in futility. Nevertheless, it was a disappointing week for the top four golfers in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Winner: Colin Montgomerie
In hopes of returning to the venue where he first played golf as a child, 53-year-old Colin Montgomerie, who last played The Open in 2010 at St Andrews, made the choice to go through Open qualifying. He earned a spot in the field with rounds of 66 and 71 at Gailes Links.
As the first man out Thursday, Monty opened with a respectable even-par 71 after double-bogeying his opening hole. But after bogeying his final hole Friday, the Scotsman, at four over par, looked like he’d miss out on the weekend. However, an assist from Mother Nature, which sent players plummeting down the leaderboard, helped the former Ryder Cup stalwart inside the cut line.
He didn’t play well Saturday or Sunday, but that’s beside the point. To try his hand in qualifying, make the field, make the cut and earn himself a Sunday walk down Troon’s 18th fairway to bid goodbye to The Open— a place of such personal significance—was special.
Well done, Monty.
Loser: Moving Day
The third-round leaderboard at Royal Troon looked like this entering Saturday's play:
Phil Mickelson 63-69—132 (-10)
Henrik Stenson 68-65—133 (-9)
Soren Kjeldsen 67-68—135 (-7)
Keegan Bradley 67-68—135 (-7)
Zach Johnson 67-70—137 (-5)
And entering the final round, here’s what was posted on The Open’s iconic yellow-and-blue leaderboard:
Henrik Stenson 68-65-68—201 (-12)
Phil Mickelson 63-69-70—202 (-11)
Bill Haas 68-70-69—207 (-6)
Andrew Johnston 69-69-70—208 (-5)
J.B. Holmes 70-70-69—209 (-4)
In other words, Mickelson and Stenson inched forward slightly, while the field lost ground. Rather than setting up a final-round battle royale, Saturday at The Open was a story of the “-son” group putting distance between itself and the field.
The biggest movers posted three-under 68s for their Saturday labors: Steve Stricker, Brandt Snedeker and Haydn Porteous. Unfortunately, none of the three were in position after two rounds to do better than sliding into a tie for sixth (Stricker).
An emerging fan favorite on both sides of the Atlantic, bushy-bearded Andrew “Beef” Johnston entered The Open Championship following uninspired performances at the BMW International Open and Scottish Open.
In other words, it didn’t seem the answer to “where’s the beef?” after the third round at Troon would be “in fourth place.” Yet there the London native was.
The Englishman has continued his rise to prominence, which saw him win the Spanish Open in April and make it through U.S. Open qualifying to finish tied for 65th at Oakmont. Johnston went 69, 70, 70, smiling his way through the first three rounds at Royal Troon to earn a position in the penultimate final-round pairing.
Sunday, Johnston posted a respectable two-over 73 to finish eighth—an impressive effort from a golfer who had never been tested in a major.
And if you’re wondering where he got the nickname, Johnston enlightened us in one of his post-round press conferences.
“When I was a kid, if I grow my hair out, I’m a quarter Jamaican, so it goes quite curly,” he said. “One of my friends said, ‘Look at your head. It looks like a big bit of beef. You’ve got a beef head.’ And it just stuck."
So there you have it.
Loser: Massive Sunday Intrigue
Late Saturday, it became clear Sunday’s final round would be a two-man show featuring Mickelson and Stenson. And while the relative quality of the pair’s work through three days was entertaining, it did set up an obvious scenario: The Open champion would come from the final pairing, rather than a surging golfer fighting his way to the top from further back.
Stenson’s three-under third round landed him at 12 under par. Mickelson carded a one-under 70 and found himself at 11 under. The next-closest competitor, Bill Haas, began the final round five strokes back. Only three golfers were within seven strokes of Mickelson.
Thus, it was virtually assured that viewers would be treated to two tournaments Sunday: a match-play showdown between Mickelson and Stenson to determine The Open winner and a consolation tournament for third place.
While this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, and the quality of the Mickelson-Stenson duel isn’t in dispute, the final-round theater of a match-play variety can't match major championships in which several players jockey for position before a winner ultimately emerges.
Winner: Stenson vs. Mickelson Slugfest
Even though we were virtually certain The Open champion would come from the final group, that doesn't mean we weren't treated to an afternoon of sit-back-and-admire brilliance that was supremely entertaining. Indeed, it was a duel for the ages. And when the dust settled, the loser of the Mickelson-Stenson showdown was an unbelievable 11 strokes clear of the field.
The pair of Callaway staffers entered the final round separated by a stroke, and they traded blows in an incredible afternoon of championship golf.
Mickelson pulled even after a Stenson bogey on the first hole and the fight was on, as the pair went back and forth in the succeeding holes. Stenson, however, twisted the needle down the stretch, rolling in an 18-footer on 14 and a ludicrous 51-foot effort at the 15th to put his first major championship within reach.
Mickelson carded a nearly flawless final-round 65 and lost by three strokes, with the death knell coming at the 72nd hole, where Stenson again poured in a lengthy putt, this time to tie Johnny Miller's final-round major scoring record of 63.
Stenson's 264 total bettered the major scoring record by an incredible three strokes. For Mickelson, this was his 11th runner-up finish in a major.
"Thank you very much for a great fight," Stenson said during the trophy presentation on NBC's telecast.
A great fight, indeed.
Loser: Rory McIlroy's 3-Wood
Rory McIlroy was playing his second shot into the par-five 16th hole Saturday when, needless to say, he didn't strike how he would have liked, and he expressed his discontent with the offending club.
The Ulsterman ultimately parred the hole. But he couldn't make a putt in the third round, posting a two-over 73.
Discussing the club abuse at the 16th hole in 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."
And as for the club? "The club head came loose on it earlier on the week," McIlroy said after his round. "I had to get the head re-glued. So it was probably partly to do with that and partly the throw as well. I'll get it reshafted tonight. The truck's here, so I'll have it reshafted, and all will be well in the morning.''
McIlroy bounced back Sunday, carding a four-under 67 to finish tied for fifth. No word on how the 3-wood is doing.