ATLANTA – Henrik Stenson leads the Tour Championship by four strokes entering the weekend, halfway to a dynamic double that would include not only the tournament victory, but the FedEx Cup title, too.
Sweeping both would net a cool $11,440,000 paycheck. And don’t be fooled: No matter how many zeroes a jetsetting golf star has in the bank account, that number is enough to make any of ‘em take notice.
For Stenson, it would nearly double his not-so-paltry $13,072,285 in career PGA Tour earnings.
But it would mean so much more than the usual rich-get-richer nature of this playoff system.
It would be karma. Redemption. Maybe even some indirect restitution.
You see, Stenson once heavily invested in Stanford Financial, a banking group which in early 2009 was found guilty of $8 billion in fraud. Its former chairman, Allen Stanford, is currently serving a 110-year prison sentence while other top executives from the company have endured similar punishments.
As for those bilked out of their assets, it quickly became a no-win situation.
Stenson was reported to have lost investments well into the seven figures when the investigation was made public four years ago.
'[It is] not all my money, but I have quite a big part of my own savings and investments with them,' he said at the time. 'It's a very unfortunate situation. I'm a victim as everybody else in that big thing.”
There may be no direct correlation between these personal concerns and his on-course performance, but facts are facts. When the story of Stanford Financial’s massive fraud broke, Stenson was ranked sixth in the Official World Golf Ranking. Within two years, he had dropped all the way to 230th.
Much to his credit, Stenson doesn’t blame the loss of his game on the loss of his savings. Nor does he point to this week’s potential windfall as an opportunity to recover what he once innocently and involuntarily surrendered.
“It's a personal matter,” he explained, “but I'm not struggling by any means.”
Even being 36 holes from the largest payday in professional golf doesn’t have him salivating over rebuilding his bank account – and then some. At least not publicly.
“For me, it's more important to leave here with two trophies,” he continued. “I mean, at the end of the day, it's just money, isn't it? I care more about the two trophies than I do the $11 million, that's for sure.”
He’s currently the clubhouse leader to claim the hardware and the cash.
With scores of 64-66, he not only leads second-place Adam Scott by four strokes, he is projected to take the FedEx Cup trophy by 1,250 points.
As if the other 29 players in the field weren’t demoralized enough by Stenson’s ball-striking prowess so far, on Friday he did it with just 13 clubs in the bag. Prior to the round, he noticed that the face had caved in on the top groove of his 4-wood. Without a replacement or time to get it fixed, he simply removed it from the bag and spotted the field one club.
It didn’t matter.
He opened with birdies on the first two holes and added three more against just a single bogey. His scoring was so precise that he didn’t hit triple-digit strokes for the week until the back-nine on Friday afternoon.
“It might have been a good thing that it wasn't in the bag,” he said. “I mean, it worked out fine without it, but the one occasion I would have used it was 9 for sure on my second shot, but I managed to make 4 anyway. So no harm done.”
When asked whether downsizing to 12 clubs might give his fellow contenders a fighting chance, Stenson played along.
“We could do that,” he replied. “Which one could we take out? I haven’t hit the 4-iron much this week.”
There have been a lot of laughs already this week for Stenson, renowned for his quick Swedish wit. It wasn’t so long ago that he wasn’t laughing at all, bamboozled out of his savings and flailing on the golf course.
That was only four years ago, but seems like much longer. He’s now all smiles, potentially on his way to a $11.44 million fortune by Sunday afternoon.
Not that he’ll admit to thinking much about it.
Like he said with a smile on Friday evening, “Money is [just] paper, right?”