THE 145th Open was a contest carried out on the sprawling links of Royal Troon, but its nature was more suited to the six square metres of a boxing ring. It produced a champion of champions. More than 150 golfers teed the ball up for a tilt at the claret jug, but for 48 hours after the initial sparring of the first two rounds this was a slugging match between two: Henrik Stenson of Sweden and Phil Mickelson of the United States of America. Stenson won his first Major by a knockout, delivered by an old one-two.

Successive birdies on the 14th and 15th holes delivered blows that the doughty Mickelson barely absorbed. A third on the 16th was almost unnecessary punishment. A birdie on the last had even the gallant American throwing the towel in as Stenson beat him by three shots, finishing on 20 under par overall.

The action was unrelenting, the struggle unremitting. It was, though, brilliant from both players. This was no untidy scrap but an exhibition of the noble art of finding a way around a links course. The scale of its excellence can be measured in figures. Mickelson went out in the last group of The Open, did not card one bogey, returned a 65. And lost. Stenson equalled the lowest round of 63 in any Major and set a record of 264 for a 72-hole total. In this sense, at least, he is the greatest. He was, ultimately, invincible.

The mano a mano nature of this Open can also be reflected by the observation that the third place player – JB Holmes of the USA – finished 14 shots behind Stenson. The Scots, incidentally, were a long way back: Russell Knox on two over, Paul Lawrie on 10 over and Colin Montgomerie on 17 over.

But this was all about the main event that started at 2.35pm and lasted for four hours. This was all about a 40-year-old Swede and 46-year-old American. There were two extraordinary performers, but there could only be one winner. “It is probably the best I have played and not won,” said a rueful but gracious Mickelson afterwards.

It was a display of incredible iron play and inspired putting from Stenson. He only stumbled under the concussive effects of tension twice: three-putting the first and the 10th. But his magisterial display equalled a series of records and brought him Major glory.

The standard was almost uniformly of the highest class. The pair shared six birdies and an eagle after six holes as both went to the turn in 32 blows, a score only matched among the chasing pack by Rory McIlroy, who shot a 68 to finish tied fifth.

Mickelson only faltered at one hole. He played two poor shots on the 12th, exchanging one patch of rough for another, but his peerless short game rescued par. Stenson, apart from those three-putts, hit a loose second shot at the 16th and almost had heart failure when his drive at the last, fuelled by adrenaline, stopped a foot short of a bunker. But he was otherwise sure with his shots, all of them pouring psychic pain on his opponent in what became almost a match-play tournament.

Stenson, the first Scandinavian man to win a Major, retained his composure throughout. He spoke afterwards of his belief that this was his week and dedicated his historic triumph who a friend who died from cancer. He also agreed that the battle with Mickelson had become similar to a boxing match.

“Yeah, it certainly was,” he said, adopting a fighting pose for the cameras. “But we managed to pull away from the rest of the field and we both played some great golf. It makes it even more special to beat a competitor like Phil. He’s been one of the best to play the game, and certainly in the last 20 years. So to come out on top after such a fight with him over these four days … ”

There was also more than an element of personal redemption. The Swede has endured two major slumps in his career. He has also previously had seven top-five finishes in majors. He had been merely a contender. Now he is a champion.