Stenson cruises to Tour Champ., FedEx titles

By Doug FergusonSeptember 22, 2013, 9:57 pm

ATLANTA – Henrik Stenson capped off the best stretch of his career Sunday with the biggest payoff in golf.

Stenson held off a brief challenge by 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and closed with a 2-under 68 to win the Tour Championship by three shots over Spieth and Steve Stricker. The 37-year-old Swede also captured the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus. Stenson earned $1.44 million for winning the tournament.

Stenson, who two years ago was outside the top 200, moved to No. 4 in the world.


Tour Championship: Articles, videos and photos


Spieth left one lasting impression on his remarkable rookie season. The youngest player in Tour Championship history ran off four straight birdies on the back nine at East Lake and pulled within one shot of Stenson with his 10-footer on the 16th.

Spieth caught a buried lie in the bunker short of the 17th green and made bogey, while Stenson steadied himself with an 8-foot birdie on the par-5 15th to return his lead to three shots. Stenson only made it easy at the end with three pars - nearly holing out from the bunker right of the 16th green, hitting a scary shot from the right fairway bunker on the 17th to the middle of the green, and saving par from another bunker on the 18th.

Spieth closed with a 64, while Stricker had a 65.

Stenson, who finished at 13-under 267, became the first European to win the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup.

His amazing summer began with a tie for third in the Scottish Open. Stenson followed with a runner-up at the British Open and the World Golf Championship at Firestone, third place at the PGA Championship and a win at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

The Tour Championship was his second win in three tournaments of the FedEx Cup playoffs.

''Since the Scottish Open, it's been just an incredible run,'' he said. ''I'm speechless. It was a tough day out there. To hang in there the way I did, I'm really satisfied. ... It hasn't quite sunk in yet. I had to fight hard mentally to keep all this aside, and I managed to do that. It's going to feel better as the week goes on. I'm pretty sure about that.''

Tiger Woods, the No. 1 seed going into the Tour Championship, never recovered from his 73-71 start. He closed with a 67 to tie for 22nd, his worst finish ever at East Lake, and wound up second in the FedEx Cup. That still was worth a $3 million bonus.

Woods wrapped up the PGA of America's points-based award for player of the year, and he captured the PGA Tour money title and the Vardon Trophy for the lowest adjusted scoring title. Next up is a vote of the players for PGA Tour player of the year. He is the heavy favorite with five wins this year.

The award is to be announced on Friday.

Stricker had birdie chances on the last two holes, unaware that making one of them would have been worth an extra $1 million. He only cared about winning the tournament, knowing he needed birdies and for Stenson to make a mistake.

''I knew the putt meant a lot. I didn't know it meant that much,'' he said with a smile.

Instead of finishing second in the FedEx Cup, Stricker had to settle for third and the $2 million bonus.

Spieth had a 55-foot birdie putt across the 18th green that stopped inches away. His season was simply remarkable. The young Texan started the year with no status on any tour, and wound up with a win, more than $3.8 million in earnings and a trip to the Presidents Cup in two weeks.

''Henrik obviously was playing phenomenal golf,'' Spieth said. ''I felt like once a few putts started falling, we have a shot at it.''

Stenson became the fifth player to win his debut at the Tour Championship, a list that starts with Tom Watson when the elite 30-man field began in 1987. He also became the first player to go wire-to-wire without ties since Watson.

For much of the day, no one got closer to Stenson than three shots, and he answered that early challenge with an 8-iron to an elevated green at No. 7 to 2 feet for birdie. The Tour Championship came to life in the final hour, though, thanks to the youngest player in the field.

Fearless as ever, Spieth began a run of birdies starting on the 13th hole that not only moved him into second place, it put pressure on Stenson not to drop any shots. Stenson's only bogey came on the 14th, when he caught a flyer over the green and missed a 20-foot putt.

Spieth was between clubs on the 17th, however, tried to hammer a 9-iron and caught just enough heavy that it plugged in the bunker.

The next challenge came from Stricker, who rolled in an eagle putt on the 15th to get within two shots. He never got any closer.

Webb Simpson had the low round of the tournament with a 63 to finish fourth.

Getty Images

Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

Getty Images

Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

Getty Images

McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

Getty Images

Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.