Ability to overcome is Stenson's recipe for success

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2013, 12:01 am

ATLANTA – In the last week, Henrik Stenson has broken a driver and a locker at Conway Farms, and flirted, however briefly, with breaking the course record at East Lake.

As an aside, he may have done a bit to break Tiger Woods’ spirits paired with the world No. 1 on Thursday at the Tour Championship.

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Not a bad news cycle for a guy who has played seven out of the last 10 weeks, but such is the dichotomy of the resurgent Swede. Having climbed from 230th in the world ranking in February 2012 to sixth, his resilience is rivaled only by his urbane ability to waffle between old habits and new hope.

On Monday, Stenson shattered his driver on his way to a tie for 33rd at the BMW Championship. He dismantled a locker before bolting town, and awoke Wednesday with so much pain in his left wrist that he couldn’t hold a toothbrush. A day later he found himself smiling atop the East Lake leaderboard following a 64 for the first-round lead at the finale.

“I just needed to realize the world is a good place again,” said Stenson, who was paired with Woods on Day 1 and clipped the FedEx Cup frontrunner by nine strokes. “I’m there now for sure, and I intend to stay there.”

Of course, the obvious follow-up question is how can a player who is two weeks removed from his first PGA Tour title in four seasons slip from the top of the mountain to the mental abyss so quickly.

“I can hear you don't have much experience with Swedes, do you?” he deadpanned.

Fair enough. But that still doesn’t explain an ailing golfer, both physically and mentally, who fixed things on the fly to the tune of 9 of 14 fairways (T-6), 15 of 18 greens in regulation (T-2) and 27 putts (T-1) in the span of three days.

Consider that Stenson spent Wednesday on the range testing a new driver – he went with TaylorMade’s new SLDR model, figuring, “(Breaking the old driver) was a blessing in disguise.” – and nursing a wrist that flared up two weeks ago before heading out onto a golf course he’d never seen in its entirety and going 6 under.

“It's always nice to play them, but it's not the end of the world if you can't,” said Stenson, who played the front nine on Tuesday and walked the inward loop to save his ailing wrist on Wednesday. “I got a good look at them, and a lot of holes seem to be pretty straightforward.”

In a related item, practice rounds across the PGA Tour have been declared overrated.

Stenson’s talent has never been in question. “I played with him a couple of times and thought, ‘How does he not win every week?’” said Paul Goydos.

Nor has his inability to overcome adversity (his current slump-busting run is the second of his career) ever been in doubt. Staying out of mental prisons, however, has proven to be something of a challenge.

“I’ve always been a bit of a hot-head, and it kind of builds up and eventually it goes over the limit,” he admitted. “For me, it comes down to being tired. I played so much golf. I played so well, and I just haven’t been able to get any rest.”

Sleep deprivation and a closing-round 74 at the BMW added up to Monday’s meltdown. In Stenson’s defense, he apologized to the locker-room attendants at Conway Farms before he left the property on Monday and offered to pay for any damages.

Few can close a chapter so quickly and effortlessly, which is perhaps Stenson’s best asset – beyond that nuclear driver and velvety touch on the greens.

The challenge now is avoiding similar burnout down the homestretch, if not East Lake’s rough. Since his runner-up finish at the Open Championship, Stenson has been in contention in all but two of his starts and the pressure, although he’s come by it honestly, is only mounting.

After starting the week second in the FedEx Cup ranking, Stenson is one of five players who are guaranteed to claim the $10 million bonanza with a win on Sunday at East Lake.

After a torrid start on Thursday – he birdied five of his first seven holes and didn’t need to make a putt over 9 ½ feet in that stretch – he cooled on the closing nine. A bogey at the 16th dropped him into a tie with Adam Scott, but Stenson hit his tee shot at the last to 4 feet for birdie to pull back in front.

All in all, an astounding rally considering where he was physically and mentally to begin the week, and a testament to a player prone to extremes but balanced enough to find the middle ground when he needs it the most.

“I’m really delighted with the change I made today,” he smiled before trotting toward the East Lake clubhouse, 54 holes away from breaking the FedEx Cup bank.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.

Notables in the field:

Tiger Woods

• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.

Rickie Fowler

• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 

Rory McIlroy

• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13). 

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Lexi, J. Korda part of four-way tie in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 1:01 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after Day 1 of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.

Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.

''I just hit the collar. I didn't know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I'm glad it caught the hole,'' Lee said.

''It's a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that's going to help.''

Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 LPGA tour account last week at the Women's Australian Open, finishing fifth.

Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She carded four more birdies.

''It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,'' Thompson said.

Her compatriot Korda had a roller-coaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.

Jutanugarn was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.

''I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,'' said Jutanugarn, who was seventh here last year.

She's trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.

Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.