Stenson's epic Open win filled with emotion, feelings

By Mercer BaggsJuly 17, 2016, 7:43 pm

TROON, Scotland – The final round of the 145th Open is better described in feelings than in words.

You must have watched it. It had to be seen, to be felt.

Those times where you leaned forward in anticipation and fell backwards in disbelief. When you placed your hands on your head in amazement. The monosyllabic yells and groans, as if you were there.

They’ll call this one epic. The Epic Open. Maybe they’ll come up with a better name, but not one more appropriate.

This one began with a remarkable 63 and concluded with the same. It developed into a two-man race, a pair of 40-somethings, both supreme talents but one with a resume far exceeding the other.

There was something lacking for Henrik Stenson and it was obvious. For him to obtain it, all he had to do was defeat a Hall of Fame player with five major titles in a head-to-head duel at Royal Troon. Simple enough.

Did you see what Phil Mickelson did first thing on Sunday? Confidently striding to the first tee, kissing his hand and touching the claret jug’s glass encasement. That felt … odd. Didn’t really work out for Yani Tseng when she tried something similar a few years ago. But this is Phil, so out-of-the-ordinary is quite normal.

What a beginning it was. Mickelson stuffing his approach shot and making birdie. Stenson three-putting for bogey. Two-shot swing in one hole and here we go! No time to settle in – you’ve had hours of lead-in coverage to get comfortable – the emotions are kicked into high gear at the start.

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Full coverage from the 145th Open

This wasn’t just anyone turning a deficit into an advantage instantly. This was Phil Mickelson, the most entertaining, fan-appreciated player since Arnold Palmer. The who mattered as much as the what and the how this Sunday. Pick any other name off the big yellow scoreboard and it’s just not the same.

And that’s what made Stenson’s performance all the more incredible. He didn’t just beat anyone. He beat Phil Mickelson. And he beat Phil Mickelson at his best.

Mickelson hit 64 percent of his fairways in the final round. He hit 78 percent of his greens in regulation. He took only 28 putts. He shot 6-under 65 and didn’t make a bogey. And he lost. By three.

Stenson, in comparison, was beyond comparison. Fairways: 79 percent. Greens: 89 percent. Putts: 27. Birdies: 10. Bogeys: 2. Score: 63.

You wondered if Stenson would waver. Would the early gut-punch send him wobbling and into the recesses of his mind where he sometimes gets frustratingly lost, like a driver who keeps returning to a destination he doesn’t want to be.

He’s been here before. Not exactly here, but near enough. Stenson has had his chances to win major titles and, obviously, never has. Had.

His response, however, was immediate and positive. A birdie at the second to tie. A birdie at the third to take the lead. A birdie at the fourth to …

Oh, my!

Mickelson hit a long-iron to 8 feet and made eagle at the par-5 fourth. We’re tied again.

These four holes were the first three rounds of Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns. Without the cut over Hagler’s eye, Hearns’ baby deer legs and actual violence. That one never made it to a fourth. We still had 14 more to go here.

Both men parred No. 5. Both birdied the sixth, from inside 10 feet. Both men parred the seventh.

Finally, a bit of separation. Stenson birdied the par-3 eighth, the Postage Stamp, from 12 feet. It’s the littlest fella in the Open rota, but a hole that has caused players fits this week. Matt Kuchar made 7 there earlier in the day. But not Stenson. He made 2.

Both men turned in 4-under 32. Stenson maintained his one-stroke lead. He stood at 16 under, Mickelson at 15.

Something had to give. Someone had to make a mistake. This couldn’t continue.

It was going to happen on the back nine. You could feel it.

And then both men birdied the 10th. We were entering Jack Nicklaus-Tom Watson-Turnberry territory now.

“This was another duel like Jack and Tom,” three-time Open winner Nick Faldo would later say. “But they took it up a couple notches with the scoring; that was crazy, the quality of the golf and the quality of the putts, it was amazing.”

Mickelson would reference the Duel in the Sun in the media center Sunday night: "I certainly was thinking about that. I know that I wanted to be more of Tom in that case than Jack, but unfortunately - I understand how it feels. It's bittersweet, I guess."

There was a slip at the 11th. Stenson three-putted again for bogey. It was one of only two dropped shots, by either man, on the day.

For all of the scoring – 14 birdies and one eagle between them – there was one amazing par that gave Phil and his fans a jolt. On Saturday, Mickelson saved par at the 12th from the gorse. On Sunday, he twice played from the rough and had in excess of 20 feet to remain tied with Stenson.

“Did he do it again?” Gary Koch said on the TV call. “He did! Oh, man!”

That eruption. You could feel the energy of that crowd. Even watching alone, however many miles away, you were right there with them.

After a pair of pars on the 13th, there came a two-hole stretch that will forever define Stenson’s career. First he made an 18-foot birdie at the par-3 14th to regain a one-stroke lead. That was impressive. What he did next was legendary.

No way he makes this. It’s 50 feet, at least. Phil’s a good 30 feet away. Stenson pars, Mickelson pars, we go to the final three-hole stretch separated by one.

But damned if Stenson didn’t.

What that must have felt like. He hits the putt and starts walking. There’s a lot of distance for that ball to cover. And when it drops so, too, does Stenson’s right arm, a fist pump captured by cameras, the forever imprint of the 145th Open.

No words can do it just.

From there it seemed a formality. Up two with three to play. Not insurmountable, but, c’mon, have you been watching Stenson play? Mickelson was going to have to do something special. And, he nearly did.

Mickelson hit the green in two on the par-5 16th. Stenson hooked his approach shot into some nasty knee-high weeds. But Stenson did as Stenson was doing and got up and down for birdie. Mickelson had to convert his eagle. He couldn’t. You could sympathize as his ball trickled off the edge of the hole. The anguish in his 46-year-old face, empathic.

“I really thought that was going to go in,” Mickelson said. 

Stenson, 40, had a shot at becoming the first man to shoot 62 in a major, something Mickelson just missed in the first round. He needed to birdie his final two holes to do so, but clipped the left side of the hole on his 8-foot birdie effort at the par-3 17th.

A two-stroke differential at the last, there was still a chance for Mickelson. He would need a birdie and some help. But help? No, there was none when Phil went searching for history on Thursday and none when he endeavored for his sixth major title on Sunday.

Stenson’s tee shot, heading right for a bunker and a sure layup thereafter, stopped. It stopped.

Stenson knocked his approach shot onto the green and then, because what would be more appropriate, he made the 20-footer for birdie to finish at an Open-record 20 under par.

Mickelson, terribly disappointed, embraced his opponent. Congratulated him. He took the loss as he’s taken many major defeats before, with professionalism and respect.

“It's probably the best I've played and not won,” Mickelson said. “I think that's probably why it's disappointing in that I don't have a point where I can look back and say, I should have done that or had I only done this. I played a bogey-free round of 65 on the final round of a major, usually that's good enough to do it, and I got beat.”

Stenson had won the duel. He had his major. He had his wife to hug. He had his claret jug to kiss.

He had his place in history.

The normally charismatic, funny and fiery Swede was at a loss for words. If Mickelson was confused at how he could lose, Stenson was equally dazed by his accomplishment.

“It hasn't quite sunk in yet,” he said. “But I'm very happy. “

Sometimes feelings are more appropriate than words.

“I felt,” he said, “like this was going to be my turn.”

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Third-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 9:05 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eighteen major champions made the cut at The Open and will be playing the weekend at Carnoustie, including 60-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer, and both major champs so far this year, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

Twenty-four-year-old Gavin Green will be first off solo Saturday at 4:15 a.m. ET. Reed and Rhys Enoch will follow along 10 minutes later.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, both at even par for the tournament, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, are in consecutive groups. Mickelson is playing with Austin Cook at 8:05 a.m. and Woods is with South Africa’s Shaun Norris at 8:15 a.m.

Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, both three shots off the lead, are also in consecutive groups. Fowler is at 10 a.m. with Thorbjorn Olesen and Spieth is 10 minutes later with Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy, looking to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship, is at 10:40 a.m. with Xander Schauffele. McIlroy is two shots behind.

Johnson and Kisner are last off at 11 a.m.

4:15AM ET: Gavin Green

4:25AM ET: Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed

4:35AM ET: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Rose

4:45AM ET: Yusaku Miyazato, Tyrrell Hatton

4:55AM ET: Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley

5:05AM ET: Ryan Fox, Jason Dufner

5:15AM ET: Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson

5:25AM ET: Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)

5:35AM ET: Paul Casey, Chris Wood

5:45AM ET: Bernhard Langer, Rafa Cabrera Bello

6:00AM ET: Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford

6:10AM ET: Masahiro Kawamura, Shubhankar Sharma

6:20AM ET: Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele

6:30AM ET: Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood

6:40AM ET: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Na

6:50AM ET: Julian Suri, Adam Hadwin

7:00AM ET: Gary Woodland, Si-Woo Kim

7:10AM ET: Yuta Ikeda, Satoshi Kodaira

7:20AM ET: Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters

7:30AM ET: Beau Hossler, Haotong Li

7:45AM ET: Cameron Davis, Sean Crocker

7:55AM ET: Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink

8:05AM ET: Phil Mickeslon, Austin Cook

8:15AM ET: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris

8:25AM ET: Lucas Herbert, Michael Kim

8:35AM ET: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari

8:45AM ET: Sung Kang, Webb Simpson

8:55AM ET: Patrick Cantlay, Eddie Pepperell

9:05AM ET: Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka

9:15AM ET: Kyle Stanley, Adam Scott

9:30AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren

9:40AM ET: Ryan Moore, Brandon Stone

9:50AM ET: Luke List, Danny Willett

10:00AM ET: Thorbjorn Olesen, Rickie Fowler

10:10AM ET: Jordan Spieth, Kevin Chappell

10:20AM ET: Zander Lombard, Tony Finau

10:30AM ET: Matt Kuchar, Erik Van Rooyen

10:40AM ET: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele

10:50AM ET: Pat Perez, Tommy Fleetwood

11:00AM ET: Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson

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Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”

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After 36, new Open favorite is ... Fleetwood

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 7:49 pm

With a handful of the pre-championship favorites exiting early, there is a new odds-on leader entering the third round of The Open at Carnoustie.

While Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner share the 36-hole lead, it's England's Tommy Fleetwood who leads the betting pack at 11/2. Fleetwood begins the third round one shot off the lead.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at

Tommy Fleetwood: 11/2

Zach Johnson: 13/2

Rory McIlroy: 7/1

Jordan Spieth: 8/1

Rickie Fowler: 9/1

Kevin Kisner: 12/1

Xander Schauffele: 16/1

Tony Finau: 16/1

Matt Kuchar: 18/1

Pat Perez: 25/1

Brooks Koepka: 25/1

Erik van Rooyen: 50/1

Alex Noren: 50/1

Tiger Woods: 50/1

Thorbjorn Olesen: 60/1

Danny Willett: 60/1

Francesco Molinari: 60/1