RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico – The Puerto Rico Open doesn’t offer the riches or the status of this week’s other event, the WGC-Cadillac Championship, but one could argue the stakes are higher. Most players come to this Caribbean island for a reason.
The Q-School and Nationwide Tour graduates are trying to improve their standing in the next reshuffle. Past champions, including major winners such as Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton, are trying to take advantage of one of their limited opportunities.
Henrik Stenson isn’t in either group. The two-time Ryder Cup participant is fully exempt because of his victories in two of the Tour’s biggest events: the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship (2007) and Players Championship (2009). He’s in Puerto Rico to reclaim his game.
His plan has paid off so far. He’s tied for second with Kevin Stadler, one stroke behind George McNeill. Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa is three shots off the lead. Stenson wasn’t exactly optimistic after Saturday’s 65, though. He said after the round that he was headed to the range for an hour.
“I’m not feeling overly confident,” he said. “It’s still been quite a bit of searching.”
Stenson once ranked as high as fourth in the world, in October 2009. He’s now 221st, behind guys named Sam Little and Benjamin Hebert. He has been inconsistent over the past two years, which he attributes partly to his tendency to overanalyze his swing and search for fixes on the course.
“It’s about moving onwards,” said Stenson, who works with swing instructor Pete Cowen. “We can do the analyzing later.”
Stenson hasn’t played a World Golf Championship since last year’s Match Play. He also played last year’s Puerto Rico Open after failing to qualify for the Cadillac Championship. Regardless of which event he’s in, he likes playing this week because it allows him to play the week after the Honda, take a week off, then play four consecutive events, including the Masters.
“There’s worse things to do than to play golf in 85 and sunny. It’s an easy week. We stay at the resort,” he said. “Obviously I’m in a slightly better situation than maybe some of the other guys who might be fighting for a spot to get back on the PGA Tour, or haven’t won before. I think it’s down to myself. I’m my biggest enemy, at this stage.”
McNeill, winner of the 2007 Frys.com Open, is seeking his second Tour victory. He and Stenson are the only players among the top seven on the leaderboard with a PGA Tour victory.
Stenson’s game is showing signs of improvement. He was 20th in Dubai and 21st at last week’s Honda Classic, the first time he has had consecutive top-25s since last year’s U.S. Open (T-23) and BMW International Open (T-9). He is fully recovered from December surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.
“It’s moving in the right direction, for sure,” he said.