The "labor" day of golf did not begin very well for Sweden's Henrik Stenson. With skies threatening and a morning drizzle lending its way to a steady rain, play was delayed from 8am to 9:30am due to the dangerous weather conditions and sporadic thunder and lightening. When the skies cleared and sun peeked through the overcast skies, Stenson set out at the TPC Boston for the fourth round of play at the Deutsche Bank Championship, trailing third round leader Sergio Garcia by two strokes. Stenson bogeyed No. 2 to drop a stroke as did Garcia, so the Swede caught a break from the Spaniard and felt quite comfortable heading onto No. 4 as the skies darkened.
The mental gamesmanship was off to a soggy start and some 20 golfers were within striking distance on a course where soggy greens lent their way to low scoring as the thunder rumbled. But like those cloudy skies, Henrik Stenson had seen the dark side of the game before, when he suffered through two major slumps - maybe even chasms - back in 2001-02 and again in 2011.
"The one I had back in '01-02, I was really, really lost," he noted when asked to compare the two lapses in his pro career. "I was lost and confused with my game and with my swing and everything. It's the frustration of dealing with that, because I've had enough good results to know I can play this game at a very high level. Not to be able to be anywhere near that standard is, of course, frustrating."
There was a noticeable difference between the slumps, some 10 or 11 years ago and the smaller imbalance in his game from 2001-to-2012. So, stepping up to the fourth, Stenson proceeded to birdie four of his next five holes before the skies threatened so much that the PGA Tour officials blew the siren, right after he putted for birdie on the par-3 eighth hole. When play resumed after a 1:51 delay, Stenson had a much-mental break to focus his game once more. He stepped out to warm-up at the range, then walked up to the ninth hole and ripped his 3-iron tee shot to finish 33 on the way out, grabbing a strangle hold of the DBC lead where he didn't look back until he faced another bout of adversity on the back nine.
Veteran Steve Stricker was applying pressure and was hovering closely behind on the leaderboard. At 17, Stenson, having found the bunker, sealed the tournament by holing out for a birdie to bring him to -22 on the tournament board, securing a comfortable lead as he walked to the 18th and final hole.
"I hit it left on 17 and I was going to hit a little nine-iron there and tugged it a bit left but got a good lie in the bunker," he said. "I thought I was going to look at a four, five or six-fotter for the par, but you know how it turned out, so that made the walk to 18 a little bit easier."
Stricker would proceed to birdie his final two holes and card (66-68-63-67) for the tournament to rise up the FedEx Cup points standings to a lofty seventh place but it wasn't enough to unseat Stenson who took home honors at Boston, including a hefty $1.44 million, then paid the Beantown patrons back by donating a significant portion of his winnings to the One Fund, established to help the victims of the senseless bombing at the Boston Marathon this past March.
With the victory, Stenson jumped ahead of Tiger Woods amongst the FedEx Cup points standings. Stenson will advance to the BMW Championship in the 'burbs of Chicago where, beginning September 12th, the Top 70 PGA Tour players compete for the challenge to rank amongst in the Top 30 FedEx Cup qualifiers. It's all for a chance to grab the $10 million first place prize at the Tour Championship by Coca-Cola, the final round of the complicated PGA Tour playoff system. Embedded in the system is an advantage for the Top 5 FedEx Cup points holders who can win the $10-mil automatically with a win at East Lake GC, the site of the Tour Championship, scheduled September 19-22.
A week ago in Boston was the first win on the PGA tour for Stenson since the 2009 Players Championship, and his first overall win since the South African championship in 2012. His TPC Boston round of (67-63-66-66) earned him a chance to win the top prize on the tour championship with only two tournaments left on the season. The win was a time for reflection back tothe dismal days of 2011.
"My 2011 was a really poor season, by any standards," he said. "But, I started coming back at beginning of last year. At the end of the year, I won the South African open but then I didn't get it going early this year. Houston (Open) time, I got my ticket to Augusta, and from then on, it's been steady progress and a couple of fantastic months. This is icing on the cake. I was longing for a win and I got it."
Yes, he got it with the hole-out from the bunker which sealed his fate and the tournament much to the dismay of a charging veteran golfer in Stricker, a self-proclaimed scoreboard watcher, who heard the crowd reaction and saw the number change when Stenson sealed the tournament.
"I just kind of rolled my eyes and said to my caddie, that he's been knocking on the door for a couple months," said Stricker. "He's been playing some great golf. You don;t think it's going to happen to you (when you are defeated) when a guy holes out from a bunker. But, I was a couple of shots back at the time, so I don't think - unless he made bogey - it would've changed things. But, you play it out.
"I was trying to make eagle on the last because you just don't know if a guy is going to run into trouble on the last and you have to play 72 holes. Good for him. Great shot, and like I said, he's been knocking at the door for quite some time and he finally got his win."
"I'm just going to continue to play my best," said the FedEx Cup points leader when he was asked about the next two weeks on the tour. "That's gotten me a very long way. It's going to be no different going to Chicago. I'm going to try my best there and then in Atlanta. I've always been a pretty good front-runner. I always like to think that the 'other guy' is going to have to play better than I do, if I'm in the lead. So, that's always been the mindset and I won a lot of those tournaments," he added smiling at his family seated in the back of the media interview room, his son nodding off.
"Yeah, I'm going to try my hardest. We'll see what happens (at the BMW tournament September 12-15th.
"Chicago ... CHI-CA-GO!"
Follow Terry Lyons on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DigSportsDesk