Stenson could put on show on, off course this week


HOYLAKE, England – When Adam Scott, the No. 1 player in the world, walked into the vast media center here at the Open Championship, he was greeted by about, oh, a dozen scribes. He almost looked depressed.

Henrik Stenson can take over the top spot this week at Royal Liverpool. If he does, a hundred people might cram into his next presser – if only to see the entire comedy routine.

Here is a sampling of his work Wednesday:

• Reminded by the moderator that he had a pair of third-place finishes at the Open, Stenson interrupted him: “And now you’re going to find out what I really want.”

• Informed that Tiger Woods has his own dedicated TV channel this week, Stenson’s eyes widened: “Where did mine go?”

• Asked, jokingly, whether he thought Tiger feared playing with him, Stenson grinned: “Yeah, I think it would have been a lot of sleepless nights for him as of late. When did the draw come out? He looked tired, didn’t he?”

• Told by a reporter that he has a very good life, and has enjoyed a very good career, and has made a lot of money, Stenson stopped him mid-sentence: “You need a loan?”

• Finished with a 30-second answer in Swedish, Stenson peered down at the confused transcriptionist: “Did you get all that?”

Heck, even Woods seems to be eagerly anticipating the first two rounds of this Open.

“He’s fun to play with,” Woods said. “He’s got a very dry sense of humor. He always tells jokes throughout the whole day.”

There are countless fun-loving characters in golf, but Stenson provides both big laughs and a big game.

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Fortunately, we’ve seen plenty of him lately, at least between the ropes. No one in the OWGR top 10 has played as many events in the past two years as Stenson’s 57. For the sake of comparison, Scott has appeared in only 41 tournaments during the same window.

Stenson’s jet-set lifestyle has proved lucrative. Playing the best golf of his life last summer, he captured both the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai, a haul worth nearly $20 million. If you actually were in need of a loan, he’d seem a good target.

But racking up so many air miles also has its consequences. At times this season he has battled burnout. It’s why he struggled at the start of the year, failing to record a top 10 until Bay Hill in late March. It’s why he faded on Sunday at the U.S. Open, shooting 73 when “there was not much left in the tank.” It’s why he skipped last week’s Scottish Open, opting for some more rest at home in Florida.

“I just couldn’t keep on going,” he said. “Coming into a major championship being tired is always a recipe for disaster, because you’ve got to have a fresh head on to take the challenges and the hard work that you need to put in this week.”

Road-weary or not, British oddsmakers love Stenson’s chances this week (listed at 16-1), and for good reason. Coming into the Open he has five top 7s in his last six starts, and he’s finished inside the top 3 in this event in two of the past three years.

A major title represents the crowning achievement for any player, of course, but it’d be particularly satisfying for Stenson, who at age 38 has already endured two career-altering slumps. That he’s once again among the game’s elite is a testament to his doggedness.

“I’ve come back from a very low pulse a few times,” he said. “I know I can do it a third time, if need be, but I’m not striving to put myself in that position again. If you keep doing the right things and keep your mind to it, then I shouldn’t be playing as bad as I’ve done a couple of times throughout the years.

“But the game is an interesting one, and you can never know for certain. I’ve had probably some bigger downs and potentially some bigger ups than a lot of players. But nothing is just a straight line. If it is, I don’t think we’re in the right place. Might be a coffin or something around us then.”

Even if he doesn’t get off the major schneid this week, Stenson can still ascend to world No. 1 for the first time. If he does win, he’d need Scott to finish outside the top 3. Two other possibilities: Stenson could get to No. 1 if he finishes solo second and Scott finishes outside the top 17; or Stenson could finish tied second with another player if Scott misses the cut (provided Justin Rose or Bubba Watson don’t win).

Whatever. Stenson isn’t worried about the complicated math. He’s more focused on trying to prolong another career resurgence.

“It was a boyhood dream to play in the Ryder Cup, and the other one was to win the Open Championship,” he said. “So just because I’ve had some great success, I don’t think that dream has gone away. It’s the last thing on my CV (résumé) to make it complete, more or less, in my eyes. I will try my hardest to make it happen.”

If he does, just imagine all of the late-night media tours and the commercials and the packed news conferences. At long last, his comedy routine would get even more exposure.