Monday, July 18, 2016

Magnificent echoes

Shot by shot, nerveless response by nerveless response, the past took us hostage.

It does that on occasion, and too often it is ugly and tragic and a thing of horror. But sometimes, if we're very lucky, it gives us what it gave us yesterday in a beautiful green place called Royal Troon.

That's where Phil Mickelson shot a 65 in the last round of what the British simply call The Open, to finish the tournament at 17-under. He ran away from the field, essentially, with four days of matchless golf. And yet the day didn't end with him hoisting the Claret Jug.

That task fell to Henrik Stenson, who was even more sublime than Mickelson. His final round of 63 was the lowest final round for a major winner since Johnny Miller's 63 at the U.S. Open at Oakmont in 1973, and his final score of minus-20 tied for the lowest 72-hole total in a major. Taken together with Mickelson's round, it was the most impeccable display of pressure golf since Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus fought it out at Turnberry in 1977 -- and it took us all right back to that now-hallowed duel with every stroke.

The past took us hostage. It overlaid 2016 with 1977 -- look, there's Watson in those hideous '70s plaid pants with the hideous '70s white belt -- and suddenly we were seeing Nicklaus shoot 65-66 across the last two days and, like Mickelson, fall short because Watson shot 65-65.  Except when this duel was done, Nicklaus himself declared it the greater feat.

 "Phil Mickelson played one of the best rounds I have ever seen played in The Open and Henrik Stenson just played better -- he played one of the greatest rounds I have ever seen," Nicklaus said.

And the happiest three words you'll ever read about that?

He had to.

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