Golf has not enjoyed a great deal of good press recently.
The game took a huge battering following Muirﬁeld’s decision not to allow women members and it has subsequently seen its reputation tarnished still further, both by the inexplicable antics of the rules ofﬁcials at the US Open, and by the unfortunate comments made by Rory McIlroy and others following the rash of high-proﬁle withdrawal from the Olympic Games.
It would be fair to say we were in dire need for some positive headlines so thank goodness we got them following the ﬁnal day of the Open Championship at Royal Troon.
The 145th Open Championship will live long in the memories of all those people who saw it (more of that later).
We were treated to arguably the ﬁnest ﬁnishing round ever seen at a Major as Henrik Stenson set all sorts of new records as he edged out the luckless Phil Mickelson.
The Swede shot 63 to shave three shots off the previous record aggregate of 267. Brilliant in defeat, the left-handed American carded a 65 to play a signiﬁcant role in what was the most captivating head-to-head battle witnessed at any Major since the great Duel in the Sun involving Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry back in 1977.
The battle between Watson and Nicklaus is one of the most iconic moments in Open history but the latter is convinced that is has been trumped by what Stenson and Mickelson served up at Troon. Nicklaus himself watched every moment of the pair’s ﬁnal round and then took to new media to express his admiration for what he had seen.
“Phil Mickelson played one of the best rounds I have ever seen played in the Open but Henrik Stenson just played better. He played one of the best rounds I have ever seen,” wrote Nicklaus.
“Henrik was simply terriﬁc. To win your ﬁrst Major is something special in itself but, to do it in the fashion Henrik did it in, makes for something very special and incredibly memorable. Some of the media have already tried to compare the ﬁnal round to 1977 at Turnberry.
I thought we played great and had a wonderful match. On that day, Tom got me, 65-66. Our ﬁnal round was really good, but theirs was even better.”
The last-round battle between Stenson and Mickelson will be what everyone remembers about this year’s championship but, unlike 1977, this one had several other interesting sub-plots, too.
The strong support cast was led by Englishman, Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who ﬁnished eighth, a distant 17 shots behind Stenson, but who entertained us throughout with his antics.
There were also excellent performances by two other unheralded Englishmen, Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Southgate, and by veteran 49-year-old American, Steve Stricker.
Stricker was fourth, a shot behind compatriot, J B Holmes, despite being out early-late in the worst of the weather on the ﬁrst two days.
Hatton dropped fewer shots than anyone else in the ﬁeld on his way to claiming a share of ﬁfth place alongside Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia while Southgate excelled himself by narrowly missing out on a place in the top-10 almost a year to the day after undergoing surgery for testicular cancer.
There was much to savour about the championship so it is a real shame that the ofﬁcial attendance was down from 176,410 at the last Troon Open in 2004 to 173,134 and that the TV audience collapsed following the switch from BBC to Sky.
The small drop in spectator numbers can be explained in part by the inclement weather over the ﬁrst three days but the size of the TV audience will be much more of a concern.
The ﬁgures show that the peak live TV audience dropped from the 4.7 million who watched last year’s Monday ﬁnish on the BBC to just 1.1 million viewers for this year’s ﬁnish on Sky.
That ﬁgure can be bolstered by the 1.5 million who watched the highlights on terrestrial TV but surely that will not be enough to quell concerns at HQ as the R&A redoubles its efforts to get more people into the game.