Jack Nicklaus says Mickelson/Stenson showdown better than 'Duel in the Sun'

Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson
@jacknicklaus on Instagram
For years, the "Duel in the Sun" between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson in the 1977 Open at Turnberry has been revered as the best in the game's history. Nicklaus said in an Instagram post that the Phil Mickelson/Henrik Stenson duel at Royal Troon over the weekend was better.
By T.J. Auclair
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Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Monday, July 18, 2016 | 1:18 p.m.

The 1977 Open Championship at Turnberry will forever be remembered as the "Duel in the Sun."

That's where Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus staged an epic back and forth battle, which Watson eventually won by a single stroke at 12 under. It was one of the Golden Bear's record 19 runner-up finishes in the majors.

The next closest competitor to Nicklaus was Hubert Green. He finished alone in third... 10 shots behind.

Many have called the "Duel in the Sun" the best major ever contested. After 36 holes, both Nicklaus and Watson were one shot off the lead. On Moving Day, the World Golf Hall of Famers each fired 7-under 65s to get to 7 under -- three clear of Ben Crenshaw, the next closest -- to set up the incredible Sunday showdown in Scotland.

On that day, it was a two-man battle. They'd left the competition in the dust.

When all was said and done, Watson carded his second-straight 65 -- one shot better than the 66 Nicklaus turned in -- to win his second Open Championship.

The "Duel in the Sun" was referenced many times over this past weekend just down the road at Royal Troon, where Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson turned the 145th Open Championship into a two-man tournament.

Just like Watson and Nicklaus before them, Stenson and Mickelson sprinted away from the field after 54 holes by playing the greatest golf on the grandest stage, the best you'll likely ever see.

It was like watching two prizefighters battle for the heavyweight belt. Neither player would give an inch.

Mickelson began the day trailing Stenson by one shot. After the first hole in the final round, Mickelson had a one shot lead. The two traded blows back and forth, dazzling with their mind-blowing shotmaking abilities.

In the end, Mickelson shot a 6-under 65 -- more than anyone could ask for in the final round of a major while contending and the best round of the day by two shots...

Except for Stenson. When it's your time, it's your time. Sunday was Stenson's time. He had a round for the ages in a pairing for the ages, which resulted in a tournament for the ages.

Stenson answered the bell at every turn and navigated Royal Troon to a major championship record-tying 18-hole score of 8-under 63 to edge Mickelson by three strokes at 20 under. It was much closer between Mickelson and Stenson than the final tally suggests.

Stenson's 20 under mark was an astounding 14 strokes better than third-place finisher J.B. Holmes.

What nickname will the 145th Open Championship get?

Time will tell.

And, the question has been asked, how does it stack up against Watson and Nicklaus' "Duel in the Sun." Nicklaus didn't waste anytime weighing in. This, via his Instagram account on Sunday night:

"Some in the media have already tried to compare today’s final round to 1977 at Turnberry, with Tom Watson and me in what they called the 'duel in the sun.' 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. What a great match today."

How about those words from the greatest major champion of all time? 

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.