The Unquestioned Champion

By Rich LernerMay 10, 2009, 4:00 pm
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The PlayersPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. ' The week started with all those birdies looking like college bowl games in late December. None of it meant much.
And because there are no games without pre-games these days, we jumped into a college football-style debate early in the week over No. 1.
We were reminded by the end that when Phil Mickelsons good, hes very good. He just wasnt this week and never factored.
Henrik Stenson
Henrik Stenson stepped up when no one else would Sunday at The Players. (Getty Images)
When Tiger Woods is not very good ' and he wasnt this week ' hes still a threat and thats the difference.
Its the canyon-sized difference between one never-ever-give up guy and all the young players who would, but never will be king with Tiger on the scene ' Anthony Kim and Adam Scott, who missed the cut; and Sergio Garcia, who missed the mark.
Still, Tiger leaves with more questions and maybe more vulnerable than at any time in years, a victim of his own outrageously high standards.
Ill be curious to see how much Tiger will play between now and Bethpage. The Memorial is a month down the road and thats most likely his next event. Im also curious to see just what the swing will look like the next time we see him.
It was odd to see Tiger playing the final three holes of an important championship, and having it not mean anything. Still, he finished with pride, always battling, always trying to get better.
And though Tiger didnt win its possible he impacted the guy who looked to be in perfect position after 54 holes. Sadly for Alex Cejka, Sundays with Tiger generally do not offer any feel-good lessons like 'Tuesdays with Morrie.'
With Cejka wilting, and everyone else clinging, it became for a stretch a game of what-number-would-you-sit-comfortably-in-the-club-house-with.
A game of post it and wait.
It was an old fashioned U.S. Open game of he-who-bleeds-the-least, of can-you-hit-a-fairway, until Henrik Stenson, mastering the lost art of driving it in play, finally took hold of the championship. He was brilliant.
Two years after his Match Play victory this is further validation for Stenson. Now is he the best player never to have won a major? Certainly at this point in time, he appears to have jumped ahead of Garcia.
Its also further validation for global golf. Angel Cabrera won the Masters, Stenson here, and Padraig Harrington the last two majors of last year. In fact the last seven big championships played have produced only one American winner: Tiger Woods.
Its validation, too, for Fanny Sunneson, still getting the most out of the best players in the world, lugging the bag for Stenson 20 years after Nick Faldo. And as colleague Brandel Chamblee points out: Stenson looked like Faldo in his heyday.
Stensons victory also validates The Players Championship. All three winners since the move to May have been big ticket talents ' Mickelson, Garcia and now Stenson.
Also, with each passing year, we grow more familiar with holes beyond 17, as were getting to know Nos. 2, 4, 9 and 14.
No. 1 for this week is the cool guy about whom so little is known ' icy like Ivan Drago in a Rocky sequel. Turns out Henrik Stensons a bit of a goof ball, with a sly, dry wit.
Hes quite comfortable, as we saw at Doral, in his own skin, sans the clothes.
Then, and again today, he showed the world just what hes made of.
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