ORLANDO, Fla. – Henrik Stenson gave himself a “kick in the butt” as he made the turn Friday at Bay Hill.
“Mentally,” he said with a wry smile. “I don’t have the ability to do that physically.”
During an even-par front side that left him nine shots off the pace, he lamented a few questionable decisions, most notably his call to go for the par-5 sixth in two. He went long and right, chipped twice and walked off with bogey.
Then came the swift kick in the pants. He refocused mentally and came home with a back-nine 30, including four consecutive birdies to close.
“I managed to turn a very much in-between round into a very good one,” he said after shooting 66, posting 10-under 134 and sitting just three shots off the lead heading into the weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
That sharper focus is an ongoing process, something he called the “Augusta mindset,” which he described thusly:
“You can’t be just average and all of a sudden try to turn it on. You have to push yourself to get where you want to with your routine and decision-making and patience. I’m trying hard.”
Whatever he’s doing, it’s working, because Stenson is riding a run of four consecutive top-15 finishes (including back-to-back T-4 showings), and he’s poised for another high finish here.
It all adds up to his best form that he can remember entering the Masters. Two years ago he had consecutive top 10s at Bay Hill and Houston to earn an 11th-hour invite to Augusta, but with a week off before the Masters he lost that red-hot form.
In nine tries there, he has never finished better than 14th.
“I think it’s definitely one of the years where I feel like I’m coming in there with a bit of form,” he said. “I’m not going to try to build it up too much. I don’t want to say this is the one time and that if it doesn’t happen it’s never going to happen.
“I haven’t been on top form when I’ve been getting to that week too many times, so it’s trying to change.”