Stenson romps to Players Championship

By Doug FergusonMay 10, 2009, 4:00 pm
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The PlayersPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. ' Henrik Stenson was famous for reasons he never imagined.
 
Two months ago, he was best known as the Swede who stripped down to nothing but his underwear and a golf glove while playing from a water hazard at Doral. Out of curiosity, he searched the Internet and found 143 articles, more news than he ever got for his game.
 
Henrik and Lisa Stenson
Henrik Stenson is greeted by his daughter after his impressive win. (Getty Images)
I guess I got as much attention off that thing as from my results the last 10 years, he said.
 
His golf was all the rage Sunday at The Players Championship.
 
With a final round that was close to perfect, Stenson was the only player to keep bogeys off his card on his way to a 6-under 66 that gave him a four-shot victory, the 10th of his career and by far his biggest.
 
This is obviously going to be the latest thing on the resume, Stenson said.
 
Trailing by five shots on the treacherous TPC Sawgrass, he took advantage of a swift and shocking collapse by Alex Cejka, never had to worry about Tiger Woods and blew away everyone else in firm, fast conditions rarely seen this side of a major.
 
I was thinking this that if I could finish in front of Tiger, that might be good enough, said Ian Poulter, who shot a 70 and to finish second. But I wasnt expecting someone to go out there and shoot 66.
 
The sun-baked gallery was curious how Cejka would fare with a five-shot lead playing in the final group with Woods. Four holes and a little more than an hour into the final round, the lead was gone. Cejka shot 42 on the front and wound up with a 79.
 
Focus quickly shifted to Woods, and whether he could rally to win from five shots behind as he did at Bay Hill. But not this time. Woods missed three fairways that led to bogeys on the front nine, and trailed by as many as eight shots on the back nine.
 
When youre playing a golf course like this and you dont have it, and the greens are this fast and this hard, you can shoot some pretty high numbers, he said.
 
Woods managed a 73 to finish eighth, his first top 10 at The Players Championship since he won in 2001, and his 16th consecutive top 10 in stroke-play events worldwide.
 
Stenson played so well that he had a four-shot leading standing on the 17th tee, his only mission to make sure it found grass beneath it. He kept his bogey-free round in tact to the end, walking off the green with his daughter in his arms.
 
Its just going to give me a lot of confidence to go out there and control myself and play as well as I did on the last day at TPC Sawgrass and to hold off such a strong field, he said. Its just going to give me a lot of confidence going into the majors. Obviously, if I can play as well as I did today, I surely can do it on a Sunday at the majors.
 
Stenson finished at 12-under 276 and earned $1.71 million for a victory that moves him to No. 5 in the world ranking.
 
John Mallinger (70) and Kevin Na (70) tied for third. They were among a dozen players who had hopes of winning on the back nine, one of the most unpredictable stretches in golf.
 
Stenson, a Swede who shows little emotion even when playing in his skivvies, never gave anyone much hope. His 66 matched the best score of the final round ' Aaron Baddeley also had a 66 with the first tee time of the day ' and was nearly 7.5 strokes better than the field average.
 
Stenson missed only one fairway.
 
The only times he came remotely close to a bogey, he holed par putts of 8 feet on the front nine.
 
Stenson rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt from just short of the seventh green and joined a four-way tie atop the leaderboard that included Poulter, Ben Crane and Retief Goosen. Stenson took the outright lead with a two-putt birdie from 55 feet on the fringe at the ninth.
 
It was over a short time later.
 
Stenson hammered a tee shot'the only time he hit driver in the final round ' on the par-5 11th, hit 4-iron to a front bunker and blasted out to 6 feet for birdie. He took aim at the flag on the par-3 13th for a 10-footer, then seized control for good after watching Poulter celebrate a birdie on the 15th to pull within two shots.
 
Stenson hit wedge to 2 1/2 feet to match him, then reached the par-5 16th in two for another birdie. And once his ball found the island green at No. 17, he could relax.
 
I could afford to go bogey-bogey and still win it, Stenson said. Thats always a handy situation to be in.
 
Stensons other U.S. victory came at the Accenture Match Play Championship two years ago against the top 64 players in the world. He also won in Dubai, finishing two shots ahead of Woods. The Players has the strongest and deepest field in golf.
 
It just seems to bring the best out of me when I have to, playing the best players, Stenson said. And obviously, now I feel like Im up there where I belong when Im playing good.
 
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    Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

    In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


    Made Cut

    Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

    Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

    “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. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

    McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

    “The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “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.”

    September can’t get here quick enough.

    Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

    There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

    In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


    Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

    On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

    “I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

    The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

    Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

    Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

    The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

    The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

    “My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


    Missed Cut

    Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

    After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

    It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

    Tweet of the week:

    It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

    The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

    While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

    “I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

    Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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    DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

    “I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

    Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

    “Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

    Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

    “It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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    Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

    What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

    Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    “I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

    McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

    He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

    Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

    “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”