Call it what it is. With 18 holes left at Royal Troon, the 145th Open Championship is a two-man tournament. And it’s between two of the sport’s biggest names.
Henrik Stenson will sleep on his first ever 54-hole lead in a major championship Saturday night with a one-shot advantage over five-time major champion and 36-hole leader Phil Mickelson. The two were paired together for the entirety of the third round and traded blows and mistakes, jockeying for position at the top whilst possible challengers faltered around them. By day’s end, second-place Mickleson (-11) was five shots clear of third-place Bill Haas at six-under, six clear of fourth-place Beef Johnston and seven clear of fifth-place Steve Stricker.
Mickelson rode the momentum of his record-tying 63 on Thursday to the 36-hole lead, but looked a much different player during the third round than he’d been before the weekend. Phil obviously battled his golf swing off the tee, missing a number of fairways and often leaving himself in classic Who’s Making You Do This situations.
Like, say, this one.
But the 46-year-old and five-time major winner kept himself atop the leaderboard with his famed short game. He’s got an 85 percent (!!!) scrambling percentage for the week, a downright absurd par-saving rate when one considers all the pitfalls for competitors around the green complexes at Royal Troon. Still, major championship Sundays put more stress on the golf swing than anything else in the sport. If Mickelson’s ballstriking doesn’t improve, it could spell bad news for his scorecard given the nearly unsustainable rate at which he’s saving pars from places he shouldn’t.
Stenson, on the other hand, got the job done on Saturday and rose to his one-shot lead the same way he always does on Tour -- with picture-perfect execution off the tee and from the fairway. The Big Swede hit frozen ropes off the tee all day and is known as one of the world’s best iron players. His nearly sidespin-less ball flight undoubtedly played to his advantage in South Ayrshire’s coastal winds.
Yet Stenson’s never been a sure bet to protect a lead on Sunday in big events as a professional. He’s long been in the Best To Never Win A Major discussion, and his game is undoubtedly deserving of the Major Champion title. But the 40-year-old has struggled to put tournaments away at times over the course of his career, and he’ll have the weight of an entire nation on his back on Sunday: No Swedish male has ever won a major championship.
It’d take a Miller-esque effort from anyone not named Stenson or Mickelson to take home this year’s Claret Jug. Soren Kjeldsen and Keegan Bradley were the two’s closest competitors at 7-under coming into the day, and both tumbled well down the leaderboard with rounds of 75 and 76, respectively. Zach Johnson started the day at 5-under before also firing a 4-over 75. Other bigger names like Sergio Garcia (-2, T-9), Dustin Johnson (-1, T-13) and Rory McIlroy (E, T-28) made surges, but ultimately all fired over-par rounds and are effectively out of contention.
Here’s a look at the leaderboard heading into tomorrow’s final round from Troon.
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