Three years after finishing runner-up to Phil Mickelson in the Open Championship, Henrik Stenson has the chance to turn the tables and claim a first Major title at Royal Troon tomorrow.
Stenson turned a one-shot overnight deficit into an identical advantage following a rollercoaster round which saw the final group separate themselves from the chasing pack including Rory McIlroy.Looking to become the first male Swedish player to win a major, Stenson carded a third round of 68 to finish 12 under par, a shot ahead of playing partner Mickelson, who at 46 would be the fourth oldest winner of any Major and oldest in the Open since 1867.
American Bill Haas was six shots off the lead in third, with England’s Andrew Johnston another shot back on five under.
Three birdies in the first four holes took Stenson into the lead, only for the 40-year-old to three-putt the sixth and fail to get up and down from a bunker on the eighth, even though the famous ‘Postage Stamp’ was playing just 100 yards as one of the changes made by tournament officials in anticipation of strong winds.Mickelson had been left cursing the “golfing gods” after his birdie putt to shoot the first 62 in major history lipped out on Thursday, but received a massive stroke of luck on the 12th.
A badly sliced tee shot was headed deep into trouble but bounced off a gorse bush and into a position from where the left-hander was able to hack out down the fairway. Mickelson’s approach to the green then span back around 15 feet and caught a down slope which took it closer to the hole, from where he holed for the most unlikely of pars. A birdie from 25 feet on the 13th doubled Mickelson’s advantage but the 46-year-old lost it immediately by three-putting the 14th after Stenson had holed from four feet for birdie.
Mickelson went back in front with a birdie on the 16th but there was time for another two-shot swing on the next, Stenson holing from 15 feet for birdie and Mickelson making bogey after a wayward tee shot.World number 19 Mickelson, who would join Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo with six Major titles with victory on Sunday, said: “It’s a great opportunity and a great challenge.I was off today, I didn’t have my best stuff and I was a little bit short of my rhythm. It could have been a day that got away from me but I’m pleased I found a way to shoot under par and kept myself in it.”
McIlroy had not given up hope of securing a second Open title despite starting the day eight shots off the lead, but never threatened to make a charge after carding three bogeys in the first five holes.And the four-time major winner’s frustrations finally came to a head on the 16th as he hurled his fairway wood to the turf and saw it snap into pieces after a wayward approach to the par five.
Stenson is certainly determined heading into tomorrows final round but also knows he will face a tough opponent: “I know Phil is going to keep on trying, he’s a great competitor and one of the finest to play the game in the last 15 years. It’s going to be tough but I’m right where I want to be. I am going to stick to my game plan and hope it’s enough when you add it all together.
“I’ve got two thirds and a second in the Open, I know what I want out of this week, but too many thoughts on the outcome is never good so I am going to try and stay on the mental plan I have and put in another good display.I was up there at Muirfield when Phil was a deserved winner but there’s always revenge. It would great to hand one back to him tomorrow.”