British Open: 5 things we learned on a dramatic Sunday at Royal Troon

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The story of Sunday's epic duel between Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson will be retold for years to come.
By Matt S. Craig
PGA.com

Published: Sunday, July 17, 2016 | 2:06 p.m.

1. We witnessed a historic duel

Coming into the day five clear of their nearest competitiors, Sunday was set up as a two man race between Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson.

The pair did not disappoint, giving us one of the greatest final round duels not only in Open Championship history, but in the history of golf. Mickelson's 65 was brilliant, yet it will be overshadowed in the history books by Stenson's 63. Both men were lights out all day, playing almost flawlessly and producing highlight after highlight.

Between the class of the two competitiors and the quality of their play, the story of the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon will not soon be forgotten.

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2. Sweden brings home a men's major for the first time

Henrik Stenson became the first male Swede to win a major, an achievement that was a long time coming for the 40-year-old. After nine top-10's in majors in his career, and just three years after a runner-up finish to Phil Mickelson at Muirfield, Stenson broke through at Royal Troon.

He did so in impressive fashion, fitting for the one they call "The Iceman." His ball-striking was lethal. He led the field in greens in regulation at 77.5 percent and was among the top five in fairways hit at 73.2 percent. He was nearly perfect on Sunday, shooting an incredible 63 and setting the all-time 72 hole record at the Open Championship at 20-under-par.

3. Phil's still got it

It cannot be overstated how impressive Phil Mickelson's performance was this week. When Jack Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters, it was hailed as one of the greatest victories ever as the aging superstar, considered to be over the hill, won one of the world's greatest tournaments. You know how old Nicklaus was at the time? He was 46, the same age Phil Mickelson was for this year's Open.

Mickelson looked as good this week as he ever has in his career, ranking in the top six in greens in regulation and fewest average putts. He fired a 63, a score that's tied for the lowest ever recorded at a major, and a course record. His 72-hole total was just three strokes off of the all-time record in relation to par at the Open.

But ultimately, as we know, it wasn't enough. He ran into a buzzsaw. Mickelson's 63 was fun on Thursday, but Stenson matched it on Sunday. Mickelson's 17-under total was low enough to win all but four Open Championships in history, but Stenson's 20-under was the lowest ever. Phil can't do anything but tip his cap to Henrik's brilliance.

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4. Oh, and Steve Stricker too

Speaking of older players who are still playing elite golf, 49-year-old Steve Stricker placed 4th overall with a five-under total. It's incredible to watch Stricker play, whose driving distance ranked no higher than 322nd in any round this week but didn't stop him from carding 15 birdies.

He was named a vice-captain for the United States Ryder Cup team earlier this year, but if he keeps playing at this level, he may play his way onto the team.

5. I can't wait for the PGA Championship

This tournament was all about the two men at the top of the leaderboard, and no one will remember the fact that Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia logged top-five finishes or Dustin Johnson's top-10.

Golf fans have been spending all year trying to determine who's in the "big three" or "fab four," but at this point the number of quality players is too many to put into a catchy nickname. Between the dominance of Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, to the undeniable star power of Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy, and top-class veterans like Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson, and Sergio Garcia, the year's final major could go to any number of worthy competitors.

Who will win the PGA Championship at Baltustrol? There could be as many as eight "favorites" to raise the Wanamaker Trophy, and I can't wait to find out.

Matt S. Craig is a PGA.com intern and a Digital Sports Production student at Ball State University.