We May Never Again See a Performance Like Henrik Stenson’s Sunday in Scotland

Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Before Sunday, you may have known Swedish golfer Henrik Stenson as the best golfer to never win a major.  That distinction is now rendered obsolete: at 40, Stenson became a major champion with his win at Royal Troon, the site of the 2016 Open Championship.

How he got there, though, is what’s so impressive about his victory. On Sunday, he and Phil Mickelson quite possibly delivered the greatest final round in the history of major championship golf.  Yes, that history includes Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, and many others.  Stenson and Mickelson may have given us a final-round duel the likes of which we have never seen before.

The tournament and this story began on Thursday when Mickelson shot an opening-round 63 to tie the major championship record for the lowest score in a round.  Phil tied 28 others through his accomplishment; he had this putt on the 18th hole to break the record.  He came so close, and yet he ended up so far away.

In Friday’s second round, Stenson shot a 65 to pull within one stroke of Mickelson, who shot 69 to maintain a one-shot lead.  By the time Saturday came around, Stenson and Mickelson made The Open a two-man race; Stenson headed into Sunday with a one-shot lead. However, the gap between the second-place Mickelson and third-place Bill Haas was a full five strokes.  It says something that most people were paying attention to the rest of the field because of a guy whose nickname is “Beef”.

But Sunday is where these two all-world golfers (Stenson in particular) would stake their claim to history.

Ironically, the Swede started his final round with a bogey at the first. Phil would take the lead with a birdie at that hole; it would be the only time Mickelson led outright all day.  Stenson birdied the next three holes, but Phil countered with an eagle at the par-five fourth. Stenson took the lead back with a birdie on the eighth but gave it right back with a bogey on eleven.  He would reclaim the lead once more with a birdie on the par-three fourteenth.  His signature moment of the day, and maybe his career, came on the fifteenth.  He had this putt for birdie and a two-shot lead.  The problem was that the putt was from at least fifty feet away.  That wouldn’t be much of an obstacle for Stenson, though, as he drilled the putt and even walked it in because it was his day and he’s a legend:

Another two birdies on sixteen and eighteen sealed the win for Stenson.  His 63 on Sunday tied the one-round record set by Mickelson and others; what goes around comes around.  A 62 would have broken the record and really rubbed it in on Phil, but a 63 will have to do.  The win marked the first major victory of Stenson’s career, and at age 40, it probably means more to him than it might to other golfers on tour.  Stenson also broke the aggregate score (264) and under par (-20) records for The Open.  His performance will truly live on forever.

But why is it important for sports fans to appreciate Stenson’s performance Sunday and over the course of the tournament?

It’s important because in sports, we seem to value coming up clutch in important moments.  We have discussions, albeit ridiculous and untrue, about supposed “clutch genes” and whether athletes have them or not.  We espouse this course of action when we want to find ways to discredit LeBron James and others while elevating players like Michael Jordan to God-like status.  However, we tend to think of this as coming up big for one’s team and we don’t necessarily believe that players want to come up clutch for themselves.

In golf, it’s obviously different.  Players are only really playing for themselves and the love of the game.  Beside from the Ryder Cup and other events, there is really no team aspect to the sport.  Players are playing to win but earnings don’t hurt, either.  It’s what we expect, and frankly, what we want, out of our athletes: playing the game out of competitiveness and competition.

But even without the team aspect of the sport, it’s hard not to appreciate what Stenson and Mickelson did over the weekend. Playing at a golf course that was far from easy, they chose to instead make a mockery of it.  Mickelson, even in second place, finished a full eleven strokes ahead of J.B. Holmes in third.  It was truly like watching two men among boys as they carved up Royal Troon and made the course look like a joke.  In reality, it’s one of the toughest courses in Scotland and in the world, but you wouldn’t know that if you only watched the Henrik-Phil pairing.

So where do we go from here?  For starters, the PGA Championship begins next Thursday at Baltusrol Golf Course in Springfield, New Jersey.  After the PGA, which is being played two weeks early this year, the world’s best golfers will head to the complete mess that is the Rio Olympics, hoping to secure gold for themselves and their country.  This will display something that we don’t often see in the golf: the team aspect of the sport.

But let’s stay in the present and appreciate what Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson gave us Sunday: a final round for the ages.  It was every bit as good as the Tom Watson/Jack Nicklaus “Duel in the Sun” at Turnberry in 1977; Nicklaus himself even took to Twitter to admit it.  Ironically, Mickelson’s last major win came at the 2013 Open Championship, when he birdied the final four holes to win at Muirfield.  Who finished second that year?  Henrik Stenson.  It’s a small world after all.

Stenson got his revenge on Sunday, and he did it with a performance the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time.  So we should appreciate that wild Sunday in Scotland: we may never see anything like it ever again.

Let Rory McIlroy Play Soccer, People of the Internet

The 144th Open Championship is but ten days away, and one of the favorites-to-be at St. Andrews is (was?) Rory McIlroy. However, that changed on Saturday, and we found out about it at around 6:00 AM this morning.  From Rory’s Instagram:


Total rupture. According to a McIlroy spokeswoman, Rory has a “10% chance” of playing in next week’s British Open.  In the meantime, he is most certainly out of this weekend’s Scottish Open, and it would take a minor miracle for him to be back at the “home of golf” for the British Open starting next Thursday.

The injury, and the nature in which it was suffered, has understandably set off a debate on whether Rory should’ve been kicking around a soccer ball in the first place.  Reaction has been understandably mixed, and in the age of Twitter, the story has exploded.  Here are some takes:

However, the hot take of the day goes to this “fair and balanced” Fox News anchor, who called McIlroy a “leprechaun” and said that she “can’t stand him”:

But here is the real question: why can’t the internet let this go?

Weird injuries happen all the time in sports, and this case is no different.  Take the injuries mentioned in this excerpt from a legendary 2002 Denver Post piece from Mike Burrows:

Lionel Simmons was a rookie starring for the Sacramento Kings in February 1991 when he developed tendinitis in his right wrist and forearm. The injury was caused by Simmons playing his Nintendo GameBoy, and he missed two games.

“It’s not unusual for Lionel to be focused on something,” Jerry Reynolds, the Kings’ general manager at the time, told reporters. “But to hurt himself like that?”

You mean, like former NBA guard Muggsy Bogues, who once missed the second half of a game because he accidentally inhaled ointment during halftime treatment of a sore muscle and became dizzy?

“One of those fluke things you don’t even dream about,” Bogues said.

GameBoy.  Inhaling ointment.  Luckily for Bogues and Simmons, they played in the age before social media.  Both were good players (Simmons averaged 18 points per game in his rookie season; Bogues played 14 years in the NBA) but neither had to face the ignominy that social media would have brought them.

Sammy Sosa hurt himself in 2004 after a violent sneezing fit brought on back spasms.  The sneezes ended up putting Sosa on the disabled list.  Coincidentally, 2004 would be Sosa’s last All-Star Game appearance.

Were we supposed to tell Sammy Sosa that he couldn’t sneeze? Were we supposed to force a “No GameBoy Rule” on Simmons? Or, in the most famous example of a weird, overzealous sports injury, were we supposed to tell Bill Gramatica not to celebrate his field goals?

The point here is that McIlroy is entitled to do whatever he wants during his free time. I sincerely hope he and his buddies weren’t playing on artificial turf, but he can play soccer if he wants to.  Even if he got hurt in the process, what’s wrong with a little game of footy with your friends?

It would’ve been terrible, but Rory McIlroy could’ve hurt or burned himself barbecuing on our nation’s birthday.  (Don’t laugh: according to Men’s Health, grilling results in 17,000 injurious accidents per year.)  Rory McIlroy could’ve hurt himself walking down a flight of stairs.  And, worst of all, Rory McIlroy could’ve hurt himself by setting off fireworks at his own peril.  It could’ve happened to anyone, anywhere, and it happened to McIlroy in a soccer game on Saturday.

As for the theory that he should be training?  Well, he’s a normal person just like everyone else.  He trains to be successful and he takes breaks to enjoy he life he lives.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Most people in this country don’t work on weekends; why should he, especially when he isn’t playing in a tournament?

Rory McIlroy is the best golfer in the world.  An ankle injury and the potential for yet another major win from world #2 Jordan Spieth could change that, but, in 99 out of 100 cases, playing a soccer game wouldn’t.  However, Rory happened to rip up his ankle in the process, and he is facing social media scorn for it. That’s a crying shame, especially for the best golfer in the world.

Why can’t we just leave him alone?

Jordan Spieth is Not Going to Win the Triple Crown of Golf, and That’s Okay

The 2015 U.S Open at Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place, Washington concluded on Sunday,
and the new, controversial, links-style course did not disappoint on Sunday.  This is in spite of numerous complaints from players, like Ian Poulter:

I look forward to congratulating the 2015 US Open Champion very soon, I simply didn’t play well enough to be remotely close. This is not sour grapes or moaning or any of that crap. It simply the truth. Mike Davis the head of the @USGA unfortunately hasn’t spoke the truth about the conditions of the greens. I feel very sorry for the hundreds of greens staff who spent countless hours leading into this week and this week doing there best to have it the best they could and I thank them for that. But look at the picture. This was the surface we had to putt on. It is disgraceful that the @USGA hasn’t apologized about the greens they simply have said. “we are thrilled the course condition this week”. It wasn’t a bad golf course, In fact it played well and was playable. What wasn’t playable were the green surfaces. If this was a regular PGA tour event lots of players would have withdrawn and gone home on Wednesday, but players won’t do that for a major. They were simply the worst most disgraceful surface I have ever seen on any tour in all the years I have played. The US Open deserves better than that. And the extra money that they have earn’t this year from @FoxSports, they could easily have relayed the greens so we could have had perfect surfaces. Simply not good enough and deeply disappointing for a tournament of this magnitude. I don’t like it when people lie on camera to try and save face. And to all you fans that paid good money to try and watch us play golf but couldn’t see anything on most holes because it wasn’t possible to stand on huge slopes or see around stands, I apologize and I’m sorry you wasted your money traveling to be disappointed. I hope we all learn something moving forward to not have these problems in the future. Happy Fathers Day.

A photo posted by Ian Poulter (@ianjamespoulter) on

And Chris Kirk:

And this one from Billy Horschel, which, though wordless, speaks for itself: However, the drama on Sunday was absolutely scintillating. Spieth birdied the 16th hole, and co-leader Branden Grace accompanied this with a double bogey on the same hole, which started with this tee shot that ended up out of bounds to the right on the course’s signature train tracks: This combination of events as well as Dustin Johnson and Jason Day’s abrupt fades from contention gave Spieth a three shot lead with two holes to go.  However, Spieth double bogeyed the 17th hole, and Johnson birdied the 16th at about the same time. Johnson then parred the par-3 17th, and the tournament was tied heading into its final hole. Spieth had the first crack at the par-5 18th, and his fairway drive left him in position to get to the green in two.  He then hit this brilliant shot to get near the hole and have a chance for an eagle:

Spieth would two-putt on the green, getting a birdie and forcing Johnson to birdie the hole for an 18-hole playoff on Monday.  A monster drive and a great approach shot gave him a chance to win the tournament by making his eagle putt.  Here was DJ, in the first half of this video, for the win:

And here is DJ for the tie and 18 holes the next day: This stunning sequence of events gave Spieth his first U.S. Open title and his second major title of the year, coming after the Masters in April.  Some are comparing him to Tiger Woods and other great golfers of the past, and on the surface, these comparisons seem just.  This is the list of golfers to win the first two legs of golf’s “Grand Slam” in the same year: Craig Wood-1941 Sam Snead- 1949 Ben Hogan- 1951, 1953 Arnold Palmer- 1960 Jack Nicklaus- 1972 Tiger Woods- 2002 However, Spieth is not the next Tiger, or Snead, or Hogan, or Jack, or Arnold.  He is his own type of player, one who does not hit the ball very long off the tee but has mastered all the other aspects of his game.  Spieth will be around as one of the best golfers in the game for a long time to come, but he doesn’t play like Tiger; not even close. We must also be careful to build up Spieth in advance of this year’s Open Championship at St. Andrews.  The last time a player won the first two majors of the year (Woods in 2002), he went into that year’s Open as the heavy favorite.  Many picked Tiger to win that year’s Open, which was held at Muirfield in Scotland.  Woods went into the third round tied for 9th at -4, two strokes behind the leaders.  Then this happened: Tiger shot 81 that day, and lost his shot at the Claret Jug in the process.  Ernie Els would ultimately win the Jug that year.  In the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National, Woods finished second and lost by one stroke to Rich Beem, and the win would turn out to be Beem’s only major title. Woods has also finished second or tied for second in majors before, but has lost to winners such as Michael Campbell, Zach Johnson, Angel Cabrera, Trevor Immelman, and Y.E. Yang, and all of those but Cabrera have not won a major since.  The point here is that it will be so difficult for Spieth to win the last two majors of the year.  With so many golfers in the field looking to take him down, it will be very difficult for Spieth to win even one of the last two majors. Spieth has played excellent golf over the past two months, and seems to come up clutch in big moments.  However, there is one unmistakable truth that should come out of the U.S. Open. Jordan Spieth is not going to be golf’s first triple crown winner. Related: that’s okay.

Chief Spieth: What Jordan’s Win Means for Golf

So Jordan Spieth didn’t self-destruct on Sunday.  With his second straight 70, Spieth tied Tiger Woods’ 1997 Masters scoring record with an -18, 270.  Every time it seemed competitors Justin Rose or Phil Mickelson got within 3 or 4, it seemed Spieth would always respond.  At 21 years and about 8 1/2 months, Spieth became the second-youngest winner in Masters history.  Last year, Spieth was tied with Bubba Watson for the lead on the eighth hole on Sunday; he would lose his share of the lead after a bogey on the ninth hole.  Using those experiences, Spieth ran away with this year’s tournament by four strokes.

With this win, Spieth catapults himself to second in the world.  Number 1 in the world is Rory McIlroy, and this could become one of the great rivalries in golf.  Who wouldn’t love to see a scenario like the 1977 British Open at Turnberry where Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson sped away from the field and dueled until the final hole?  Watson carried a one-shot lead into the final hole.  Both birdied, and Watson walked away with a Claret Jug.  Watson finished at -12, while Nicklaus was -11.  The next lowest competitor was Hubert Green; he was -1.  Who wouldn’t love to see Rory and Jordan lap the field and duel for major titles in the future?  If Spieth can avoid the Bubba Watson distinction of not having the same amount of success at other courses as he does at Augusta, he and McIlroy will be the world’s two best golfers for a long, long time.  Spieth’s all-around game seems to suggest that he can be that kind of golfer, and can compete at many different courses.  He doesn’t have any real flaws in his game, and he seemed to have complete control of his short game, and, particularly, his putting.  He doesn’t kill his drives, but his short game is so strong that that doesn’t really matter.

In conclusion, the game of golf is in really good hands, and specifically in the four hands of Spieth and McIlroy.  Get ready to enjoy golf’s next great rivalry, as these two continue to develop and flourish as they mature throughout their careers.