x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Henrik Stenson overpowers Earth Course and field to double his pleasure

Henrik Stenson overpowered an elite field to win the DP World Tour Championship by six shots and clinch the European Championship

Henrik Stenson was not to be denied at the DP World Tour Championship, taking the tournament title and also finishing first in the Race to Dubai standings. Pawan Singh / The National
Henrik Stenson was not to be denied at the DP World Tour Championship, taking the tournament title and also finishing first in the Race to Dubai standings. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // Sweden’s Jonas Blixt stood behind the final green, impatiently holding a bottle of imported carbonated water as countryman Henrik Stenson finished his round Sunday.

Blixt made the purchase just as Stenson had completed the front nine, and it was clear what he had in mind — an impromptu bubbly bath on the 18th green for the DP World Tour Championship winner.

Not that Blixt needed to be clairvoyant, exactly. He knew by the day’s mid-point that Stenson was not likely to blow a lead that had been building, well, since the summer.

“No way he wasn’t winning,” Blixt said.

He could have made the purchase in July.

In a career-defining performance to cap a memorable comeback season, Stenson matched the lowest score of the week with an eight-under 64 and broke the tournament scoring record by two strokes with an exclamatory eagle on the 18th at the Earth Course.

More like the Scorched-Earth Course.

Stenson, 37, did not so much play the layout as he dissected it, leading the field in fairways and greens to finish 25 under. Incredibly, he missed four greens and six fairways ... for the week. His performance was so clinical that foes drew comparisons that were downright stunning. Nobody argued the point, either.

“No one has played as well for the past six months,” said the former world No 1 Luke Donald. “His ball-striking right now is as good as anyone I have seen, including Tiger [Woods] in his prime.”

A month after winning the FedEx Cup points title in Atlanta, Stenson breezed to the European Tour’s Race to Dubai points title, too, pocketing a combined US$11 million (Dh40.4m) in bonus money and becoming the first member of both circuits to win the seasonal points crowns in the same year. He won the season finales on both tours in the process.

“The double-double,” Stenson said. “That’s going to take some beating in the future.”

His eardrums took a beating from his Florida neighbour, Ian Poulter, who has playfully taunted the Swede for a month after they made a dinner wager over the Race to Dubai title. Poulter finished second, six shots back. The margin of victory matched the biggest in the event’s history.

With Blixt and fellow Swede Peter Hanson dousing Stenson in Pellegrino water as he exited the final green, Poulter waved a white towel overhead and yelled: “I give up.”

Then the Englishman used the towel to dab the water from Stenson’s face. Everybody staring at the scoreboard was rubbing their eyes already.

His swing coach of the past 12 years, Pete Cowen, stood alongside the same green and observed the scene, a smile on his face. When the former top-five player dropped out of the top 200 two years ago, Cowen helped Stenson reassemble the pieces.

“Technically, he is as sound as anybody out there,” Cowen said. “There are probably four or five players in the world who can win on ball-striking alone, and he is one of them.”

Stenson is the first member of both tours to top both seasonal points list in the same year. He played in a wearing, wearying 29 events this year.

“He’s the iron man on both sides of the Atlantic,” said George O’Grady, the European Tour commissioner.

Stenson birdied four of the first seven holes. Four times in the final round he hit approach shots within three feet for no-stress birdies or eagles. By the back nine, it was a coronation march.

Perhaps the best came last, when he hit a soaring 3-wood on the 18th into a stiff wind from 260 yards that nestled two feet from the hole for an easy eagle. Who needs a putter?

“It’s not like he’s draining a bunch of putts,” Donald said. “He’s making it very easy on himself. Classic golf.”

With the wraparound sunglasses, Stenson can seem almost robotic, but that is hardly the case. He lived in Dubai for a decade and his thermometer can run nearly as hot as the summertime temperatures.

He famously snapped a driver during the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup series in the fall and Cowen all but laughed when somebody suggested that Stenson seems devoid of emotion. In fact, he possesses the best Swedish veneer not manufactured by Ikea.

“He’s got the calm exterior,” Cowen said. “Inside, he’s a volcano.”

His play has been red-hot for months, with three wins since the summer and two top-three finishes at the majors.

Stenson inherits a notable mantel from the previous Race to Dubai winners. All four of the players to win the seasonal title eventually climbed to world No 1. After Stenson’s season, scaling the last two rungs seems a reasonable possibility.

“If he keeps playing like this,” Donald said, “why not?”

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