Troon - The 145th Open is the Duel in the Dreich with Henrik Stenson seizing the advantage over Phil Mickelson and the rest of the field at Royal Troon floundering in their wake.

Stenson took advantage of a pair of two-shot swings on Royal Troon’s back nine short holes to overhaul Mickelson. The Swede birdied both the par three 14th and 17th holes while Mickelson’s rare mistakes at the same holes cost him bogeys. The Swede, seeking the first men’s major championship for his country, had once led and twice pulled level only to drop behind again during a cut and thrust third round in strong winds and punctuated by rainfall.

It was more Duel in the Dreich than Duel in the Sun but the two are detached from the field every bit as clearly as Watson and Nicklaus in 1977. Bill Haas is alone in third five shots back of Mickelson after a 69, while the colourful Englishman Andrew “Beef” Johnston is fourth on five-under after a 70. Stenson’s 68 was the equal best of the third round, Mickelson’s 70 one of only a handful under par in the tough conditions.

The Swede agreed it had been like a matchplay duel between the two, and was happy to “get in a couple of big punches” at the short holes on the back nine. “We’ve played a lot together, Phil’s one of the top players of the last 15 years for sure and it’s an inspiration to play against him,” he said. “Phil had the edge at times but I got in my blows when they counted.”

He doesn’t feel the pressure of leading going into the final round seeking his first major, he added.  “I still feel I pretty much have nothing to lose,” he said. “I’d rather be ahead because I know Phil will have to play better than me tomorrow to win. Obviously I’d like to be looking at something at the end of tomorrow but I don’t want to think about outcomes just yet. There’s another long and tough day ahead tomorrow. At the end of the day whatever happens the sun will still come up on Monday – just maybe not here in Scotland!”

A shot behind after 36 holes, Stenson wasted no time in drawing level after a 15 foot birdie putt from the front edge of the first green. The Swede then birdied three and four for good measure to take the lead on the American, who started solidly with just the one birdie after nearly driving the third green.

However Stenson had problems at the long sixth, dropping a stroke there and then found the front bunker at the Postage Stamp, shortened to exactly 100 yards for the day. He failed to get up and down and Mickelson had the lead again.

Both negotiated the turn without further damage but Mickelson had a clear bit of luck on the 12th, when he carved his drive left and his ball went perilously close to the gorse, rebounding off a branch so he could get a club on it. He duly capitalised by getting another par and then rolled in a 25-footer on the 13th to stretch his lead to two.

However at the 14th Stenson hit in to eight feet for birdie and Mickelson, so steady at holing out all week, made his first error when a three foot putt kicked off the edge. Stenson’s two to his rival’s four meant the pair were tied again.

Stenson had to get up and down from a greenside bunker as Mickelson birdied the long 16th, but the American pulled his tee shot at 17 wide left while Stenson rattled in a birdie putt of 25 feet. Mickelson’s short game briefly betrayed him with a poor chip and he missed an 18 foot par putt.

The pair both got up and down from left of the final green for their pars, leaving Stenson one ahead going into the last round.

Meanwhile there was no magic from Rory McIlroy and a three wood in bad need of repair after frustration got the best of him on the long 16th during his two-over 73.

Rory, at two-under starting the day, wanted to go to the turn in 32 or 33 to put pressure on those ahead  but instead it was 37 and he overboiled throwing his three wood on his second shot to the long hole on the back nine, the head coming off.”

“The club head came loose on it earlier on the week,” he said sheepishly. “I had to get the head re-glued, so it was probably partly to do with that and partly the throw as well. The truck’s here, so I’ll have it reshafted, and all will be well in the morning. I let one go the same way with a three-iron on the previous hole; no-one likes to make the same mistake twice, and that’s what happened.”

Colin Montgomerie’s last action at his home club of Royal Troon in an Open will be with a marker at the head of the field after a 79 left him in last place.