Stenson surges to lead at East Lake
Yes, Henrik Stenson has been hot lately, and we’re not just talking about his five top-3 finishes since early July and his first-round 64 Thursday at the Tour Championship. Just Monday, in the BMW Championship final round, he pounded his driver onto the ground on 18 and the head broke off. Then he tore a door off of a locker after his 74 and tied for 33rd.
“I’ve always been a bit of a hothead,” said the Swede, who apologized and awaits a bill for damage. “It kind of builds up and eventually goes over the limit. For me, it comes down to being tired. I played so much golf (and) haven’t been able to get rest.”
On top of that mental state, Stenson came to East Lake with a bad left wrist that he figures he inflamed by hitting balls and sleeping on it wrong last week. It was so bad that on Wednesday he hit just a “couple of shots on the range” and didn’t play a practice round — even though he had never played East Lake before, save for the front nine Tuesday.
“Wednesday morning, just holding a toothbrush was painful,” said the winner of the Deutsche Bank Championship, the second of the four FedEx Cup playoff events.
Thanks to ice, rest and anti-inflammatory medicine, the wrist hardly bothered him Thursday. To the contrary, despite the unfavorable prelude, he hit the ball as “good as ever” in making five birdies on the first seven holes. Remarkably, his approach shots during that stretch ended an average of 7 1/2 feet from the hole. He rode that to a 6-under score and one-stroke lead over Adam Scott.
“It was a good turnaround mentally,” understated Stenson, who entered the final week second in FedEx points but now is projected first in the race for the $10 million bonus. “I kept my head on — both with myself and the driver.”
After missing a 10-foot birdie at the first, Stenson converted from 7 1/2 feet at No. 2 and rattled off four consecutive on Nos. 4-7: from 8 inches, 4 feet (after a 221-yard 5-iron), 2 feet (after a 207-yard 6-iron) and 9 1/2 feet.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” he said.
Asked how he was able to rebound from last week, he answered, “I just needed to realize I was in a good place (mentally) again. I’m there for sure and plan to stay there.”
Stenson said he was surprised his wrist didn’t bother him when he woke Thursday, given the pain the day before. He also said the sore wrist had nothing to do with breaking his club after driving into a hazard or tearing up the locker Monday.
“I was sore in another place then,” he deadpanned.
His shotmaking clinic came in front of none other than Tiger Woods. The two were on opposite ends of the spectrum, for Woods had a miserable putting round, shot 73 and stands 29th in the 30-man field. It was the first time since the 2010 US Open that Woods did not make a birdie in a round.
When they finished, Woods told Stenson, “Really well played,” but did not talk publicly about his own round.
“It’s a nice feeling to hit those kind of shots playing with the world’s best player,” Stenson said. “Normally it’s him who does it to everyone else, (so) it was kind of nice to throw a couple at him.”