Stenson must go low or go home

One year ago, this was the week when Henrik Stenson started taking over the PGA Tour playoffs by winning the Deutsche Bank Championship en route to securing the FedEx Cup.

This week, the defending champion at TPC Boston needs a good finish simply to keep alive his chances of defending his title in the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta next month.

“Obviously, I started a lot higher in the standings last year,” said the big Swede, who was ninth heading to the postseason last year. This season, despite a late-season run, he was only at No. 70.

Stenson tied for 38th last week in the Barclays, carding a quintuple-bogey 9 on the fourth hole of round three en route to a 6-over-par 77, and climbed three spots to 66th in the standings.

He must stay in the top 70 and qualify for the BMW Championship next week, and he needs to climb into the top 30 to get a chance to play at East Lake.

“I was guaranteed only two events this time and borderline to get into the third, but that’s what the playoffs are all about,” Stenson said. “You can have a few good weeks and make up a lot of ground.

“I still believe if I can get it going, I have a chance to do it again.”

Last year, in the seventh season of the playoffs, Brandt Snedeker became the first FedEx Cup winner to make it back to the Tour Championship the following year.

Because of injuries and/or poor play, Tiger Woods (twice), Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk and Bill Haas all failed to get back to the finale at East Lake in Atlanta after claiming the FedEx Cup the year before.

Stenson needs to play well enough to remain in the top 70 and qualify for the BMW Championship next week before he can zero in on giving himself a chance to reach the Tour Championship.

“I worked hard on my game (recently), and it’s starting to pay off,” said Stenson, whose only top-10 finish in the first five months of the year was a tie for fifth in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March.

“We’ve got the FedEx Cup playoffs and we’ve got the Ryder Cup, so it’s a lot of golf still to play. I feel like I’ve had some nice time to work on my game. I’ve had a few good weeks, and I feel like I have a few more in me.”

Those who were paying attention last season could see Stenson coming.

Before he won the Deutsche Bank, the Tour Championship and the World Tour Championship-Dubai to become the first player to claim he FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai on the European Tour in the same year, he had a blazing end to his summer.

Stenson finished second in the Open Championship at Muirfield, tied for second in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and was solo third in the PGA Championship at Oak Hill.

After his very slow start this year, he enjoyed a similar run, tying for fourth in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, tying for 19th at the Bridgestone and tying for third in the PGA at Valhalla.

“I’m fairly happy with my form,” Stenson said. “It can always be better, but I’ve played OK. It hasn’t been as good of a season as the last six months of last year, but you can’t expect to play like that all the time.

“It’s been all right. I think I got four or five top fives, so it’s been pretty consistent play. It’s all about hard work, putting yourself up there and hopefully your name will be on top or around the top of the leaderboard when you hit the back nine on Sunday. That’s what it’s all about, to give yourself chances. If I can play well enough to keep to my plan and keep the patience and get the odd good bounce here and there, I hope to be there on Sundays.”

Part of the reason for Stenson’s slow start this year was the hangover after his brilliant second half of 2013.

So much so that it spoiled his holiday season.

“That Christmas was ruined, a lot,” Stenson said. “I was running on fumes when I saw Santa Claus. I was very tired.”

It wasn’t only the golf. His off-the-course demands increased, especially back home in Sweden.

Stenson’s success has made him the great hope to become the first Swedish male to capture one of golf major championships. He is from the country that gave the world Annika Sorenstam, perhaps the greatest female golfer of all time.

“The biggest change is he is more recognized now,” said Stenson’s wife, Emma. “Especially back in Sweden. People talk about him in a different way, which has been fun. But our life hasn’t changed much.”

Perhaps only the expectations.

–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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