TROON, Scotland – Henrik Stenson is the champion golfer of the year, thanks to a final round for the ages.
He kept hitting the best shots of his life, one after another, and he needed each one to stay ahead of Phil Mickelson in a British Open duel that ranked among the best in major championship history.
Stenson made 10 birdies, including a 50-foot putt across the 15th green that had him pumping his fist in a rare show of emotion Sunday.
The final stroke in this masterpiece was a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that curled into the cup on the final turn. It gave him an 8-under 63, tying Johnny Miller at Oakmont for the greatest closing round by a major champion, and Stenson didn’t even realize it until he sat down to sign his card.
Records didn’t matter. This was about winning his first major.
“Right now I’m running on adrenaline. But there will be some point when I’ll struggle to make it up the stairs when I get back to the house,” Stenson said after four hours of an epic battle between two 40-somethings at Royal Troon.
Mickelson was a runner-up for the 11th time in a major, but never like this. He can’t look back at a mistake because he really didn’t make any. He opened with a 63, closed with a career-best 65, shot the second-best score in Open history and was 11 shots better than everyone in the field.
“It’s probably the best I’ve played and not won,” Mickelson said. “I think that’s probably why it’s disappointing in that I don’t have a point where I can look back and say, ‘I should have done that or had I only done this.’ I played a bogey-free round of 65 on the final round of a major. Usually, that’s good enough to do it, and I got beat. I got beat by 10 birdies.”
He got beat by arguably the best final round in 156 years of major championships.
Miller also made 10 birdies in his final round of the 1973 U.S. Open, and then waited to see if anyone could catch him. Stenson started the final round with a one-shot lead over Mickelson, and knew it would be a two-man race from the opening hole when Mickelson nearly holed out from the fairway.
He answered great shot with one of his own, finally pulling away with birdies on the 14th and 15th holes, and then a third in a row after Mickelson drilled a 3-wood onto the green at the par-5 16th and came within a fraction of an inch of making an eagle.
The last birdie was for the record book.
Stenson finished at 264, breaking by one shot the 72-hole scoring record in the majors that David Toms set in the 2001 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club. His 20-under par matched Jason Day’s record for lowest under par at last year’s PGA Championship.
His biggest challenge was 46-year-old Mickelson, who has won five majors.
“I knew he wasn’t going to back down at any point, and in a way that makes it easier for myself,” Stenson said. “I knew I had to keep on pushing, keep on giving myself birdie chances. He wasn’t going to give it to me, so I had to pull away. I’m just delighted I managed to do that with a couple of birdies at the right time.”
This was heavyweight material, reminiscent of the “Duel in the Sun” just down the Ayrshire coastline at Turnberry in 1977, when Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus battled to the final hole, and no one else was closer than 10 shots.
Stenson and Mickelson were never separated by more than two shots over 40 straight holes until the Swede’s final birdie. In the final round, they combined to make 14 birdies and an eagle. If this was a better-ball match, they would have shot 59.
“I’ve always thought that he is one of the best ball-strikers in the game and that major championships are perfectly suited for him,” Mickelson said. “I knew that he would ultimately come through and win. I’m happy that he did. I’m disappointed that it was at my expense.”
J.B. Holmes won the B-Flight. He finished third, 14 shots behind.
The Swede won his first major in his 42nd attempt, becoming only the ninth player to capture his first major after turning 40. Beyond the score, the measure of his performance was that he putted for a birdie on every hole Sunday in a mild wind off the Irish Sea. Stenson three-putted for bogey from just off the first green, and he three-putted on No. 11 to fall back into a tie for the lead.
They matched pars on only six of the 18 holes.
Stenson became only the fourth player to win the British Open with all four rounds in the 60s, joining Tiger Woods, Nick Price and Greg Norman. He also ended a streak of six American winners at Royal Troon that dated to 1950.
He gave Sweden a long-awaited major in men’s golf, 19 years after Jesper Parnevik lost a 54-hole lead at Royal Troon. Stenson said Parnevik send him a message that said, “Go out and finish what I didn’t manage to finish.”
“I’m really proud to have done that, and it’s going to be massive for golf in Sweden with this win,” Stenson said.
Maybe he can take that silver jug down to Rio in his search of Olympic gold.
Golf’s top four players have withdrawn from the Olympics , but the Rio Games will have at least two of this year’s major champions — Stenson and Masters winner Danny Willett of England.
There’s one more major to play before Rio. Take a breath, Henrik. The PGA Championship starts a week from Thursday.
Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020
Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.
Theo Bair (MLS)
This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)
Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.
Connor McDavid (NHL)
McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.
Chuba Hubbard (College Football)
The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.
2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.
The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.
Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.
Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.
“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”
Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.
Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.
“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”
Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.
“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”
Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.
Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.
“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”
After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.
“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”
None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.
“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.
Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.
“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”
That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.
“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.
Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month
NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.
The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.
Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.
“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.
“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”
It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.
For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.
Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.
A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.
It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.
Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.
“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.
“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”
Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.
“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.
“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”
And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.
“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”
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