By Sam McPherson
When explaining the 2016 Open Championship at Scotland’s Royal Troon, even the superlatives don’t seem to make sense. Two golfers –Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and America’s Phil Mickelson — played head and shoulders above the rest of the field. And when it was over, Stenson had completed a round for the ages, while Mickelson, on the unlucky side in yet another major championship, was left to shake his head.
Stenson’s Sunday round of 63 tied the all-time mark for the lowest closing round score in the history of a major tournament, while Mickelson’s bogey-free round of 65 merely got him another second-place finish in another major. Stenson finished at 20-under par to win his first major tournament at age 40. Mickelson ended three strokes behind in registering his 11th runner-up finish in a major event.
The rest of the field at Royal Troon lagged far behind; J.B. Holmes (6-under) was next closest to the leaders, with Steve Stricker (5-under) right behind him. Three players — Sergio Garcia, Tyrrell Hatton and Rory McIlroy — tied for fifth place at 4-under par. Nevertheless it was really a two-man show for much of the weekend in Scotland.
Stenson shot all four rounds in the 60s, as he chased down Mickelson, who opened the tournament Thursday with a round of 63. By Saturday afternoon, as the third round came to a close, Stenson owned a one-shot lead on Mickelson. That set up Sunday’s virtual match-play scenario between the two golfers over the tournament’s final 18 holes.
No one was disappointed on Sunday (except, perhaps, Mickelson), as Stenson made a whopping 10 birdies in the fourth round. Lefty shot a bogey-free 65 on Sunday — a score (and probable result) any golfer would happily take. It simply required one of the all-time great rounds in golf history to beat him, and that’s what Stenson played.
Consider this: Mickelson’s 267 score for the tournament would have put him atop every other Open Championship ever contested. Stenson set the all-time scoring record for a major with his overall 264 score, beating David Toms’ 265 total from the 2001 PGA Championships. His 20-under performance tied Jason Day’s mark at the 2015 PGA Championship for the lowest under par. He also wiped out Tiger Woods’ Open Championship scoring record of 19-under, set at St. Andrews in 2000.
For the history-making effort, Stenson took home a winner’s check worth $1.551 million. Mickelson earned $891,000 in consolation. Lefty found himself on the wrong side of history for the 11th time in a major. While he already owns five major-tournament wins, his efforts could end up defining his legacy in a different way. Only Jack Nicklaus has more second-place finishes in a major with 19. Mickelson is also currently tied for fifth in major finishes in the top 10 with 39, trailing second-place Sam Snead by seven.
Next On The Tee: RBC Canadian Open
A strange 2016 schedule finds just one tournament between the Open Championship and the PGA Championship, thanks to the Summer Olympics in Brazil this August and its inclusion of golf. However, the RBC Canadian Open shouldn’t suffer this week when the Tour visits Oakville, Ontario and the Glen Abbey Golf Club. Jason Day is the defending champion. And coming off a 22nd-place finish at Royal Troon, he will be looking to sharpen his game in time to defend his PGA Championship title.
In addition to Day, former RBC winners in the field this year include 2013 champ Brandt Snedeker, 2011 champ Sean O’Hair and 2010 champ Carl Pettersson. Reigning U.S. Open winner Dustin Johnson is also in the field, coming off a ninth-place finish in the Open Championship, along with Canadian golf hero and 2003 Masters champion, Mike Weir. Several PGA Tour legends plan on playing as well, including two-time Canadian Open champ Jim Furyk (2006, 2007) and Hall of Famer Vijay Singh.
The Glen Abbey Golf Club course, designed by Jack Nicklaus in the 1970s, has been the site of 25 previous Canadian Open events. The Canadian Golf Hall of Fame is located at the club. The course itself is noted for holes 11 through 15 which take golfers into a valley where a long creek provides a hazard for three of the holes. Both 2012 champion Scott Piercy and 2014 champion Tim Clark shot a tournament-record 263 on the Nicklaus-designed circuit.
The Colonial Country Club course plays 7,273 yards long and is a par 72.
Favorites: Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker
Players to Watch: Tony Finau, Jim Herman, Ryan Palmer
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf and fantasy sports for CBS Local. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach. Follow him on Twitter @sxmcp, because he’s quite prolific despite also being a college English professor and a certified copy editor.