Stenson leads by 4 at East Lake
Henrik Stenson broke another club Friday — this time by accident.
And it didn’t matter.
Playing with only 13 clubs in the bag after his 4-wood broke on the practice range, Stenson made three birdies on the opening four holes at East Lake to quickly seize control and shot 4-under 66 to build a four-shot lead over Adam Scott in the Tour Championship.
For all his birdies, the best move he made all week was deciding to put the 4-wood in his locker instead of carrying it with him.
Stenson heard a funny sound after hitting five shots on the range, showed it to Steve Stricker and realized the face caved in. A television viewer who heard about the incident called the PGA Tour to see if the Swede had kept it in his bag, and officials checked with Stenson after his round.
If he had left it in the bag without using it, Stenson would have been assessed a four-shot penalty — the margin of his lead. If he had used the club, he would have been disqualified. Stenson had no intention of using it, though sending it to his locker saved him.
He wasn’t sure it was a violation to carry a non-conforming club, nor did he know the penalties.
"You asked me how well I knew the rules the other day. I gave myself 7 out of 10, didn’t I?" he said. "I guess this was in the other 30 percent then. … Good thing that we put it in the locker before we teed off."
The way he’s going, a bizarre incident like that might be the only thing that can stop him.
Stenson was at 10-under 130 going into the third round and might be playing a course far less firm. The forecast is for rain most of day, and the starting times have been moved up to Saturday morning with hopes of getting it in.
Tiger Woods is not in position to halt the hottest player in golf. Woods was headed toward the best round of the day, 5-under through 13 holes, when he made double bogey on the 14th, had a triple bogey on the 17th and wound up with a 71. He was 14 shots behind. It was the first time since the 2011 PGA Championship that Woods began a tournament with back-to-back rounds over par.
"I put everything I had into that start and didn’t have much at the end," Woods said. "Just ran out of gas."
Scott sputtered at the start. He was one shot behind Stenson and quickly fell five shots behind with a couple of poor tee shots. Scott played the last 14 holes without a bogey and wound up with a 69 that put him at 6-under 134.
The Masters champion chose to look at a different number — not four shots back, but only a guy ahead of him.
"Look, Henrik is playing fantastic, so he’s got this thing under control at the moment. But not for 36 holes," Scott said. "I think there’s too many good players here. It’s not just myself or someone at 5 under. If it is softer tomorrow because of rain, there could be a lot better scores because it’s playing probably as tricky as it can at the moment."
Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old rookie, had a 67 and was five shots behind. U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson and Billy Horschel were another shot back.
There’s never a dull moment with Stenson, who only last week made news for all the wrong reasons when he smashed his driver on the final hole of the BMW Championship and tore up his locker at Conway Farms.
"They’re not going to believe me anyway after last week that the 4-wood broke during natural causes," he said.
His hope was to find a new head in a nearby pro shop, though it was unlikely he could test it in time with the early start Saturday. Told that Stenson only had 13 clubs in the bag, Scott said, "It didn’t seem to bother him."
Stenson could not recall another time that he started a round with fewer than the maximum 14 clubs allowed. Finishing a round with fewer than 14? That’s different.
"In general, I try to keep it at 14," he said. "Most rounds I manage to finish with 14 as well."
Stenson (No. 2) and Scott (No. 3) are among the top five seeds in the FedEx Cup who could take home the $10 million bonus simply by winning the Tour Championship. Woods could still win the FedEx Cup if both of them falter, which is looking unlikely halfway through the tournament.
Scott has even more at stake — a win might be enough for him to win PGA Tour player of the year.
Stenson really only needed the 4-wood one time in the second round — his second shot into the par-5 ninth. He had to hammer a 3-iron instead, coming up well short of the green. He still got up-and-down for birdie, so it didn’t matter. He also used the 4-wood a couple of times on the back nine Thursday, missing one of those fairways.
Ultimately, what mattered was his position.
"They got more work to do than I have," he said of his four-shot lead. "It might seem like a large lead, but four shots during two rounds is not that much. We know sometimes four shots isn’t enough on nine holes. So I’m pretty cool about that. I’m just going to go out and try to do the best I can for the next two days. And hopefully, that’s good enough."