By Larry Fine
SPRINGFIELD, New Jersey (Reuters) - Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson forged an epic duel in the final round of the British Open and they ride into the season's final major, the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, on a wave of momentum and inextricably linked in golf lore.
That may seem odd in a sport where there is a winner and a loser, but the masterly battle between winner Stenson, who fired a record-tying 63, and runner-up Mickelson, who shot 65 to finish 11 shots ahead of third place at Royal Troon, set a standard for major golf finishes.
"I'm just delighted I managed to win it in the end," said Stenson, 40, who set a British Open record with a 20-under total in winning his first major championship.
"When you hear the words that Jack (Nicklaus) and Tom (Watson) and a lot of the best players that have ever played the game are giving us credit for how we played, that's obviously very pleasing and very humbling."
Mickelson, who won the 2013 British Open at Muirfield, finished on 17-under, a total that would have won 141 of the 145 British Opens played. He said the finish was deflating but at the same time he found strength in how well he played.
"I think it's the first time in my career that I have played to that level of golf and not had it be enough to win a tournament," the five-times major winner told reporters on Tuesday.
"That's a disappointing thing because I would have loved to have added another Claret Jug.
"I don't look back on the final round with anything that I would have done different, other than maybe go over to Stenson's bag and bend his putter a little bit. That's probably the only thing I could have done and had a chance."
Mickelson won the second major of his career at the 2005 PGA at Baltusrol, the last time the Tillinghast course hosted a major.
"Because I am playing well, I don't want to (lose) an opportunity, another really good opportunity that I have to play a PGA Championship here at Baltusrol at a course I like, while my game is sharp, and let the effects or disappointment linger.
"What I want to do is just play to that level that I played at the British Open. I have to try to believe that it will be enough this time, if I'm able to duplicate that performance."
Stenson and Mickelson, 46, thrilled the galleries at Troon and millions of golf fans around the world watching the broadcast and inspired other aging players with their bravura performances.
"It's a boyhood dream come true and something I wanted to achieve all my life, and then it finally happened," said Stenson, the first Swede to win a men's golf major.
"You're never going to get to the point where you're maxed out in your ability and how you're playing, so there's always that strive to become better. I got a little perfectionist in there that's always been pushing me forward...
"So I think I've still got a good few years in me and I'm going to try and keep on developing, and if you don't, these young guys are going to come up and take over. So I still think I've got a bit of fight in me."
Mickelson, 46, believes he has more years of great golf ahead.
The big lefty said the way he learned to play golf, quieting the body down and using the length of the arc and swinging motion of the club to develop speed, helped him stay healthy.
"I think that has really helped me to play successfully in my mid-40s without having injury and having repercussions of having practiced so long for so many decades.
"I don't believe that there is a small window," he said. "I think there's a really big window of opportunity to add to my resumé."
(Editing by Andrew Both)