Phil Mickelson hails Open winner Henrik Stenson as 'a great champion'

Sweden's Henrik Stenson (left) hugs USA's Phil Mickelsonas he celebrates winning the Open Championship during day four of The Open Championship 2016 at Royal Troon Golf Club, South Ayrshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

Phil Mickelson claimed he had never played better and lost after being edged out by Henrik Stenson in an epic battle for the Open Championship.

The pair went head to head throughout a thrilling final round at Royal Troon but in the end it was Stenson who prevailed on 20 under after shooting a stunning 63.

Mickelson, who shot 63 himself on Thursday, had led after the first hole and was level with Stenson for much of his round but he failed to keep pace in the closing holes and finished 17 under.

The American said: "It's disappointing to come in second but I'm happy for Henrik. He's really a great champion.

"It's probably the best I've played and not won. 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 beaten.

"I was just trying to birdie every hole, but it seemed like he was. I was just trying to keep pace.

"I had to make 30 or 40-footers just to try to keep pace with him, and wasn't able to do it there in the end."

The pair were well clear of the rest of the field with third-placed JB Holmes finishing some 11 strokes back on six under.

The nature of the battle between Stenson and Mickelson, who also jostled for the lead throughout Saturday, drew comparisons with the famous 'Duel in the Sun' in 1977 in which Tom Watson beat Jack Nicklaus.

Mickelson was aware of the parallels with one of the game's classics.

He said: "It certainly crossed my mind a little bit out there today, that match when Jack and Tom went head-to-head there in '77. I was certainly thinking about that.

"I know that I wanted to be more of Tom in that case than Jack, but unfortunately (not). I understand how it feels (to lose). It's bittersweet, I guess."

Mickelson paid tribute to Stenson, whose triumph was his first in a major championship.

The 46-year-old, a five-time major winner, said: "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.

"I knew that he would ultimately come through and win (one). I'm happy that he did but I'm disappointed that it was at my expense."

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