Comment: Troon's title tussle trimmed to two


And then there were two. 

Henrik Stenson or Phil Mickelson will win the 145th Open Championship.

The five-time major champion's one-stroke overnight lead was reversed after 54 holes as the persistent Swede took pole position at Royal Troon, and it was all about them.

There were moments when challengers stepped forward from the pack, but they soon retreated, forced to back down on a treacherous homeward journey that claimed so many victims.

It is perhaps the greatest indication of just how well the leading duo are playing that they walked off the 18th green no worse than they had found themselves at the turn.

That alone marked them out from the crowd on a day when the back nine was cranked up to a hitherto unseen difficulty setting. 

The organisers changed a few pin and tee positions in light of the high winds, gusting at up to 30 miles per hour. It was a sympathetic gesture as much it was a token one.

What they ought to have done is put a sign on the 10th tee - 'no birdies past this point'.

Okay, so some did manage to make gains on the inward stretch, but back-nine totals of 40 or more were commonplace.

Stenson, though, made it back in 33, Mickelson in an even-par 35. Saturday's aggregate score across those holes was 201 over par.

So it is no bold statement to declare, with 18 to play, that one of these two will lift the Claret Jug on Sunday.

Mickelson has the greater credentials, including an Open Championship as recently as 2013, when Stenson was his nearest rival.

He even has previous at Troon, having broken a run of unremarkable finishes at the tournament with a top-three placing in 2004.

But Stenson, whose 68 was the equal best round of the day, has the air of a man ready to break his major duck.

And he has tamed the last nine holes like no other, shooting six under over the first three rounds.

When Sunday's duel, which amounts to 18 holes of match play with the prize of winning golf's oldest major up for grabs, hits the turn, Stenson should have no fear.

His runner-up finish to Mickelson three years ago was not premised on anything like the set-up that has been laid out for the final round in South Ayrshire.

Stenson finished three shots back - having been tied fifth on Sunday morning - and it was perennial nearly man Lee Westwood who choked down the stretch to let Mickelson in.

This time Stenson has the upper hand from the off - his first 54-hole lead at a major - and only one man can bring him down.