AN EPIC CONTEST – THE 2016 BRITISH OPEN AT TROON
The 2016 British Open Golf Championship at Troon in Ayrshire, which finished on July 20, will be remembered for all the right reasons and in particular for the epic final round contest between five times Major winner Phil Mickelson and the Swede Henrik Stenson, at 40, bidding to win a first major.
Mickelson, aged 46, opened with a superb 63, 8 under, just missing a birdie on the final hole which would have given him the lowest opening score in a major championship. At the conclusion of Day One he led by three from Kaymer and Reed. In the Second Round he again broke par with a 69, to continue to lead. Ominously, however, his lead had been cut to one, with the Swede Stenson the major mover, shooting a 65 to finish 9 under. The fancied players, including McIlroy, Johnson and Garcia were well back.
Day Three saw a further stretching out of the field, with Stenson and Mickelson pulling clear. Stenson had another excellent round of 68 to move into the lead at 12 under; Mickelson was again under par with a 70, but dropped one stroke behind. Third place (Bill Haas) was five strokes back.
The final day saw what has been termed a “shootout” between the two leaders, instantly acclaimed as a classic and as one of the greatest final round duels in Majors history. Certainly it’s the best I can remember, not just because it was a tense and exciting battle with the lead changing hands and the pair tied for several holes on several occasions, but also for the quality of the golf. By the ninth hole both players had improved on their overnight totals by four , Stenson to sixteen under, Mickelson to fifteen, the field now trailing by eight strokes.
The last nine holes saw Stenson drop a shot on the eleventh and the two golfers again tied until the fourteenth. Then in a remarkable burst, Stenson pulled ahead decisively, with three successive birdies and a par on the seventeenth to lead by two strokes. He proceeded to seal a remarkable victory by birdieing the last hole, finishing three ahead of Mickelson with a staggering total of 264 strokes -twenty under par, an Open Championship record and tying the lowest total in a major. Stenson’s final round of sixty three to win a major equalled Johnny Miller’s 1973 record at Oakmont.
Third place went to J.B. Holmes, eleven shots behind Mickelson. Also rans included McIlroy and Garcia, joint fourth at four under, and Dustin Johnson, ninth at two under. World number one Jason Day finished one over, twenty one shots behind Stenson.
THE 2016 U.S.PGA JULY 28-31 2016.
The last Major of the year, the U.S. PGA followed hard on the British Open, the date brought forward because of the Rio Olympic Games. The venue was Baltusrol, New Jersey, on the famous lower course designed by A.W. Tillinghast.
The course for 2016 had the added interesting factor of having only two Par-Fives – the last two holes to be played, prolonging interest by making possible a last minute surge to win or tie. This very nearly proved the case with Jason Day, the defending champion, eagling the final hole, requiring the wire to wire leader and eventual winner, Jimmy Walker, to put par or better for victory. Thunderstorms on the third day severely curtailed play and required all the leading players to complete two rounds on the last day. Whether that influenced the outcome is difficult to assess. The course took a lot of water (it rained throughout most of Day Four) which slowed the pace on the greens significantly.
The leader from the outset was the eventual winner Jimmy Walker, aged 37, who recorded his first Major victory. There were several surges during the competition but though he was caught and had to share the lead he was never passed out and completed his final round with no bogeys and three birdies. Jason Day finished one shot back, the field a further three. The “near miss” story was possibly that of the Japanese golfer Hideki Matsuyama, who finished joint fourth at nine under but who clearly narrowly missed a number of puts. Aged 24 he appears a bright prospect. Among the notables failing to make the cut were US Open Champion Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, who is in a slump at present with serious flaws in his putting. Interesting to note also is that this year all four Majors were won by first time winners.