18 Jul 2016

Stenson wins British Open to land first major

6:39 am on 18 July 2016

Swedish golfer Henrik Stenson has crowned one of golf's great comebacks with a thrilling and breathtaking British Open triumph at Royal Troon.

Henrik Stenson at the Open Championship.

Henrik Stenson at the Open Championship. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

In the finest final round in Open history, Stenson eclipsed Phil Mickelson by three shots in an epic battle down the stretch that evoked memories of Tom Watson's famous "Duel in the Sun" victory over Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry 39 years ago.

The cool Swede closed with an incredible 10 birdies in a record-equalling eight-under-par-63 to finish with an historic 72-hole total of 20-under 264 to become the first Scandinavian man ever to win a major championship.

The stunning aggregate - after previous rounds of 68-65-68 - beat Tiger Woods' all-time low scoring record from his runaway victory at St Andrews in 2000.

Stenson's success was also sweet revenge after American Mickelson overturned a one-shot deficit to deny him the Claret Jug at Muirfield in 2013.

"Wow, this will take a little while to sink in," Stenson said after kissing the Claret Jug and dedicating his victory to a "dear friend" he'd lost last week to cancer.

"Thank you Phil for a fantastic battle. You played some great golf.

"I'm obviously delighted to come out on top this time, but thank you very much for a great fight."

Bidding to become the oldest Open winner since Old Tom Morris in 1867, Mickelson was gallant with a flawless 65 featuring four birdies and an eagle - but still unable to land a fairytale sixth career major at 46.

Going birdie for birdie all weekend, the pair separated themselves from the field, just like Watson and Nicklaus finished 11 and 10 shots ahead of their challengers in 1977.

American JB Holmes (69) was third, some 13 strokes adrift of Stenson, with his veteran countryman Steve Stricker (69) fourth a further shot back at five-under 279.

Rory McIlroy (67) finished equal fifth at four under in his return to the Open after missing his 2014 title defence with injury.

But the afternoon belonged to Stenson, whose magical 63 equalled the lowest score in major championship history - three days after Mickelson shot it to open the tournament.

The world number six's amazing win comes five years after the Swede lost his swing and plummeted from world No.3 to 230th in the rankings.

Mickelson started Sunday's two-man shootout one behind but wasted no time nudging back in front.

His tap-in birdie on the first completed a two-shot swing as Stenson three-putted for bogey.

Mickelson's chipping genius came to the fore on the second as he almost holed out after missing the green.

But Stenson replied to birdie and regain a share of the lead before taking sole ownership of it with another at the third.

Mickelson's comeback was immediate, the American making his eagle at the par-5 fifth.

With two more birdies, though, Stenson had regained his one-stroke overnight lead by the turn.

He three-putted again for bogey on the 11th but, not to be denied, landed the knockout punch with his eighth birdie of the round on the 15th to kick two shots clear.

Stenson's three at the last was merely the icing on the cake.

-AAP

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.