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Iceman Henrik Stenson savours the Swede smell of success at Troon

Iceman holds nerve to lift Claret Jug and smash records after winning classic showdown with battling Mickelson

By Paul Mahoney

Sequels are not supposed to be as good as the originals. But there are always exceptions. This was golf's Rocky II and every bit as good as 1977's classic Turnberry 'Duel in the Sun' when Tom Watson beat Jack Nicklaus in what essentially was a matchplay battle for the Claret Jug.

Troon had Henrik Stenson versus Phil Mickelson. Thirty-nines years is a long time. Watson won £10,000. Stenson takes home £1.175m. Stenson is called the Iceman. Records melted with his 20-foot birdie putt on the last hole to beat Mickelson by three shots and win the Open. His 20 under par total of 264 is the lowest 72-hole score in Open history and the lowest in any Major.

It beats by three strokes Greg Norman's total from Royal St George's in 1993, and by one stroke Tiger Woods' 19 under par winning score from St Andrews in 2000. Stenson's eight-under par is only the second 63 in the final round to win a major.

American Johnny Miller did it at the 1973 US Open. Stenson's country will know that he is the first male golfer to win a major for Sweden. That's quite a comeback for the Swede who had slumped to world number 230 in 2012 and who lost £10 million in the Alan Stanford financial scandal in 2009.

"I knew this was going to be my time," Stenson said. "But it's not something you want to run around and shout about."

Stenson even had the chance to record the first ever 62 in a Major missing a five-footer for birdie at the 17th. Heck, he shot 63 with two bogeys and agreed it felt like a heavyweight boxing contest. "We managed to pull away from the rest of the field and we both played some great golf," Stenson said.

"It makes it even more special to beat a competitor like Phil. He's been one of the best to play the game, and certainly in the last 20 years.

"So to come out on top after such a fight with him over these four days, it makes it even more special. I knew he wasn't going to back down. I'm just delighted I managed to do that with a couple of birdies at the right time on the final stretch," he said.

Spare a though for Mickelson. He lipped out for a 62 in the first round, compiled a sensational six under 65 in the final round, with no bogeys, finished at 17 under par, 11 strokes clear of fellow countryman JB Holmes in third place - and he lost.

His total of 267 would have won every other Open held at Troon by at least five strokes. His 17 under par would have won or forced a play-off in 141 of the 145 Opens.

A teary-eyed Mickelson was asked if it was any consolation that he had been a part of one of the greatest ever final round contests. "No," he said.

"I don't remember a match like that. The best I have ever played and not won," he said.

With Mickelson and Stenson separated from the chasing pack, this was billed as the Duel in the Wind.

But Royal Troon gave us a Duel in the Sun after all. Following all the rotten weather since Friday, the sun finally burst though the Ayrshire cloud as Stenson and Mickelson stood on the first tee. Stenson had a kiss form his wife. Mickelson kissed the glass case on the first tee that contained the Claret Jug for all to see. It was Stenson that got to kiss it on the 18th green.

This was epic stuff. They went at each other toe to toe. All the way to the end. Every time one of them landed a punch, the other jabbed right back. They played the front nine between them with seven birdies, an eagle and one bogey. What an exhibition.

As they set off on the more difficult back nine, it came down to a game of who would blink first. No one blinked. Stenson frankly knocked Mickelson out with three birdies in a row from the 14th. The 50-foot out that found the cup at the 15th put daylight between them for the first time. A two-shot lead for Stenson. That was it for Mickelson.

They, like Watson and Nicklaus in 1977, left the final green in each other's arms.

Stenson and Mickelson put on a show for the ages.

"Would have been a great tournament without them," said Zach Johnson, last year's champion, who finished tied 12th at one under par.

He was joking.

Belfast Telegraph


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