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All except two players in the Open were merely footnotes

Golf - British Open - Jordan Spieth of the U.S. and his caddie Michael Greller stand on the second tee during the final round - Royal Troon, Scotland, Britain - 17/07/2016. REUTERS/Craig Brough
Golf - British Open - Jordan Spieth of the U.S. and his caddie Michael Greller stand on the second tee during the final round - Royal Troon, Scotland, Britain - 17/07/2016. REUTERS/Craig Brough

By Larry King

TROON, Scotland (Reuters) - As the British Open drew to a close on Sunday, all but two players were in the same situation as the galleries, mere spectators watching an amazing battle between Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson.

Stenson won with the lowest total score in major championship history, 264 strokes, to beat Mickelson, who equalled the previous Open record of 267.

American J.B. Holmes was a distant third on six-under 278, but the other scores were just a detail. Everybody was in the same position as Rory McIlroy, seeking to take positives away from Royal Troon after being blown away by two brilliant rivals.

"After the second day, I was never going to win this golf tournament," McIlroy said after a closing 67, his best score of the week.

He finished on four-under 280, 16 shots behind Stenson, but it still gave him a tie for fifth.

"Look what those guys have done, there's no chance of me getting to that score. So to finish as high ... that was the goal, to finish as high up as I could this week."

Lee Westwood, who has come so close to winning several majors without closing the deal, was never in the hunt this time.

"I played poorly the first three days," he said, referring to rounds of 71 73 73. But he liked his closing 68.

"Anytime you post 68 in the final round of a major championship you take some positives away."

Justin Rose was mostly happy to play. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open last month on his return to action after missing two tournaments with a back injury.

"That's what I'm most excited about this week, is how I feel," he said, after finishing equal 22nd with Westwood, among others, on one-over 285.

"My previous couple of tournaments ... I didn't really finish any round particularly strong. I felt when I came off I was fatigued.

"But I really feel good now. I could have gone straight to the first tee and played again."

Some players tried to identify weak spots, including world number one Jason Day.

"I think the short game let me down this week," Day said. I didn't hole the putts that I needed to ... I didn't get up and down for birdies."

Several drew a kind of consolation from the weather, which was mercurial even by Scottish standards. Thursday was calm and balmy, but the following three days mixed wind, rain, cold with relative calm and spells of sunlight.

The luck of the draw was significant, with Stenson and Mickelson both out early on Friday, before windy afternoon conditions caused havoc for the late starters.

Day, McIlroy and Jordan Spieth were among those suffered.

"One thing that I've learned over the years is that the weather can have a big impact," Day said.

"Me, I said it yesterday, myself, Rory and Jordan were kind of on the bad side ... it may be unlucky, but you've got to embrace it and try to play good."

The vanquished will not have to wait long for another chance, because the year's final major, the PGA Championship at Baltusrol in New Jersey, begins in less than two weeks on July 28, earlier than its usual August date to accommodate the Rio Olympics.

Spieth, for one, does not mind the hectic span.

"I think that's good for us," he said. "I think we feel that we're ready for it to start next week, if need be. Just got to fine-tune a couple of things when we get back home."

(Reporting by Larry King)

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