Substitute stoic Swede Henrik Stenson for stoic Argentine Angel Cabrera, a two-time winner of a major not of the faux variety, and the 36th Players was a major, in form if not function.
Add up all the notches on Henrik Stensons prolific 3-wood and even a BCS computer would spit out a singular sum ' world beater.
In a single flurried February in 2007 Stenson clipped Ernie Els (by one shot) and Woods (by two) at the Dubai Desert Classic and dusted off his first American victory at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship ' an event that featured the worlds top 64 professional breadwinners, including Woods ' in clinical fashion.
But since then Stenson had failed to add to his global trophy case. Part of his stalled ascent was suspect driving, and part was a suspect psyche.
I was quite wayward, and I contacted (Dr. Bob Rotella) to have somebody to chat about different things and get some tips on focusing on the right stuff, Stenson said. I wouldn't still say that I'm 100 percent confident with my driver, and obviously that's why I like this golf course as of now, because I don't need to hit that many drivers.
Instead the big Swede pounded Pete Dyes mounded madness into submission with what one player at the 07 Match Play called a nuclear 3-wood that was so effective he played from something other than Sawgrass manicured fairways just twice over his final 36 holes.
Yet even with that trusty 3-wood in tow, few outside of the assembled Stenson clan ' which included his father, mother, sister and wife, Emma ' were giving the European Ryder Cup fixture much of a chance as the final round got underway with an unproven Czech-born German pinned to a five-stroke advantage and Woods sounding nothing like a man who spent more time in the pine straw than the prescribed parchment the first two laps around the Stadium Course.
Hardly a month earlier Woods had started his last 18 on another brutish Florida track five lengths down and proved again that hes the best closer in sports not named Jonathan Papelbon.
The script was clear: Woods would close the gap on surprise 54-hole frontrunner Alex Cejka by the time the Sunday brunch buffet was pulled and outlast any comers down the stretch. The prognosticators were only half right.
Cejka would fade, painfully at times, but it wouldnt be Woods picking up the pieces.
Less than an hour into his round, Cejka had squandered the largest 54-hole lead in Players history, playing his first four holes in 3 over, and, along with Woods, quickly became background noise. It was a mystifying distraction on a day that mystified the status quo.
For his part Cejka was at ease with his plight, although that didnt stop him from tinkering in the art of denial: I hit good shots, but I got bad breaks, bad lies, didnt make a putt.
The golf gods havent held a grudge that sinister since Sergio Garcia went down whining at the 2007 British Open, and Cejkas take brings to mind a longtime caddie yard axiom. Three things that dont last: dogs that chase cars, caddies who close bars and players who putt for pars. And on Sunday Cejka spent more time scrambling than former Detroit Lions quarterback Joey Harrington.
Through nine holes on Sunday Cejka had failed to hit a single fairway and just two greens in regulation and all those bad breaks added up to an opening effort of 42 and a closing card that featured the same number of bogeys (six) hed totaled for his first 54 holes.
Woods wasnt much better.
On Sunday the world No. 1 reiterated an often-used line, Im close. But in the grand scheme of things he was never really close to Stenson.
Although he turned in even par, his round was full of the type of unforced errors that have turned trophy presentations into hasty exits for Woods. A sloppy wedge over the green at the ninth led to a ground-loosing par and he caught a chip heavy on the 10th for bogey.
Ill fix it, no problem, Woods said of a swing that has appeared an octave off since a Utah surgeon did an extreme knee makeover. We know what it is, its just a matter of me doing.
Nobody knows Woods swing better than Woods, and he has five weeks and probably one more start ' likely the Memorial ' to steady the ship before the U.S. Open, but Cejka seemed to sum his playing partners day, if not his week.
He didnt really hit many good shots, but his short game is so good, Cejka said. It should have been a 5 over by the way he played. Were all human. We cant play 100 percent all the time. We saw that last week (at Quail Hollow).
His statistical line for the week was hardly a recipe for success at a major, or minor, event. He ranked 74th in fairways hit, 46th in greens in regulation and 33rd in putting, and even though his eight-place showing was his fifth top 10 in five stroke-play outings, the questions will persist because he is Tiger Woods.
I'm a little bit surprised, but to be honest, I've watched a little bit of the highlights. He's got a lot out of the golf course this week for certain positions that he's hit it in, Ian Poulter said. He's hit it in a couple of spots which if Joe Average hits it in there, he's shooting 3-, 4-, 5-over par on the day. Tiger Woods is not going to do that, he's too good. His short game is too good. He always hangs around.
No one, however, was going to outlast Stenson. His closing 66 tied for low round of the day under the most intense conditions. He was nearly perfect on the weekend, missing just two fairways and playing his final 18 holes without a bogey.
After a solid front nine, Stenson birdied three of his first six holes on the back and by the time he reached the par-5 16th he was 3 up and virtually dormie. A two-putt birdie made the feared final two seem like a coronation.
Henrik put his foot down and sped past everybody. That was a hell of a round of golf out there today, Poulter said. Those greens were icy quick. Ive never seen them that color except at an Open.
Emma Stenson smiled when someone mentioned the incident earlier this year at the WGC-CA Championship when Henrik stripped down to his unmentionables to play a shot out of a Doral water hazard. Would he take a dive into the murky lake guarding TPCs 18th like Jerry Pate did in 1982?
As long as he keeps his clothes on, Emma Stenson smiled.
Stenson stayed dry, on the 18th hole and in his post-round comments: Ill save that for a day of drizzle, he deadpanned.
Its just as well since his play seems to be making a big enough splash at the games most important events.
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