by G. Rennie
The winds finally arrived yesterday at the Castle Stuart links and the Scottish Open Championship delivered both an expected outcome and a surprise finish. Phil the Thrill played in the final pairing, starting two shots back of the Big Swede, Henrik Stenson, and most in the gallery were probably pulling for him to get the come from behind victory and claim his first title in the land that created the game. A victory by Phil would undoubtedly lend some needed chops to this often maligned tournament. GMac was the latest detractor, although he beat a quick retreat as soon as the Scotch Terrier Paul Lawrie sunk his teeth in to him as he came to the defense of his National Open.
But back to the golf. Phil won as expected but his method brought the surprise- making bogey six on the par five 18th hole when a simple two putt down a slope from the left fringe would have taken the title in regulation. This after the overflow crowd around 18 green greeted him as the conquering hero on his approach. Whoops! Six feet past on the first, slightly off the cup on the right, tap in and off to the playoff with the South African Branden Grace.
Grace managed his way to a 69, as did Mickelson, controlling his ball well in the steady two club wind and sinking a couple of clutch par savers on the back side. The quiet twenty five year old made a big noise in the world of golf last year winning five times around the globe with four victories on the European Tour.
Early in the round it seemed unlikely either of these gents would be cashing the winner’s check as Stenson built his lead to three strokes, four over Phil when he double bogeyed the opening par four. Up ahead the rookie Danish golfer, JB Hansen scored an improbable quad on the par 5 second hole. He then went on an even more improbable ride making five consecutive birdies, then another at the ninth, and finally, two more on the back side before a rash of bogeys brought him back down to terra firma. That’s the greatest bounce back from disaster that I’ve seen for a while.
Stenson’s strong play was anchored by his driving which went crooked on the back side and his troubled compounded with a couple of three jerks.
So the tournament was Phil’s for the taking but he didn’t make it easy on himself or his legion of fans as he missed makeable birdie putts on 16 and 17 then stumbled into the playoff. But all were royally rewarded with a magical nip wedge from a tight Scots lie from right of the green. A soft landing to kick in range for birdie and the coronation ceremony commenced. Hugs from the wife and kids, congrats from the Scottish Minister of Sport (we should get one of those in the US of A) and off to The Kingdom of Fife for a try a leg three of the career grand slam.