Another week, another post-round rules discussion. But unlike the BMW Championship controversy that cost Tiger Woods two strokes and generated a lot of aftershocks, Henrik Stenson was spared all but a scare after Friday’s second round of the Tour Championship.
Not that he knowingly abided by the rules, however. Fact is, Stenson came perilously close to carrying a non-conforming golf club, a 4-wood, into competition at East Lake Golf Club. Had he done so, it would have cost him a minimum of two strokes and no more than four; had he used the club, it would have meant disqualification.
And considering that Stenson shot 4-under 66 to get halfway home at 10-under and into a four-stroke lead over Adam Scott, the personable Swede breathed a sigh of relief.
So, too, did Stenson’s caddie, Gareth Lord.
“He snap-hooked a couple shots on the range, and he never snap-hooks the ball,” Lord said. So Stenson examined the face of his 4-wood, then he showed it to Steve Stricker, and it was clearly determined that the face had been caved in.
“That’s the problem when you hit it too hard, right?” Stenson kidded, but the truth is, the story came close to not being funny at all. That’s because “we were just going to put the club in the bag,” Lord said. “Luckily, we didn’t.”
Instead, Stenson took the advice of his physio, Cornel Driessen, who brought the injured club into the locker room.
It’s a 17-degree Callaway X Hot, “but it’s a little less hot right now,” Stenson said. Again, he was smiling, finding the humor in the situation. Given where he was a week ago, Stenson can appreciate how it might not have turned out to be not so funny. After all, the Swede was in the scoring trailer as Woods’ playing competitor in Round 2 of the BMW when PGA Tour rules official Slugger White arrived bearing bad news. Woods would have to add two strokes for causing his ball to move while lodged in trees behind the first hole.
This time, however, PGA Tour rules officials – in this case, Mark Russell and John Mutch – were there to speak with Stenson. It seems that Golf Channel showed the practice-range scene with Stenson looking at his club and a viewer called in to raise the possibility that the tournament leader had a broken club in his bag.
Doing the prudent thing, Russell approached Stenson before the Swede, who was in the final pairing with Scott, could sign his card.
“We just wanted to see (that Stenson didn’t have the club in his bag),” Russell said. When they discovered that he did not, in fact, carry the 4-wood and had but 13 clubs in his bag, it was case closed.
Lord is friendly with Bryan Raines, the head professional at Ashton Hills GC in Covington, 35 miles outside of Atlanta, “and he has the club face, we have the shaft” – so if all goes well, the tournament leader might have a full 14-club set for Saturday morning’s third round.
“I should be able to work something out, I think,” Stenson said. Then again, he added that “sometimes it’s better to go with a known than the unknown,” so perhaps he’ll stick with just 13.
When a reporter – cognizant of the fact that Stenson in his last six tournaments has a win, two seconds and a third, and has built a four-stroke cushion in this FedEx Cup finale – might play with just 12 clubs to give his opposition a chance, he smiled.
“We can do that, but which one would you like me to take out?” Stenson said. Then he remembered that he had not hit his 4-iron in two days, so it was suggested that that would be the one. The Swede laughed.
Indeed, another brilliant round of golf – three birdies in his first four holes, so he has played the front in 9 under – put Stenson in control Friday to win not only the $1.44 million Tour Championship but also the $10 million bonus for the FedEx Cup title. Hard to imagine that the day could have gotten much better than five birdies and just one bogey, but it certainly did when Stenson discovered that by pure happenstance he had been spared. A player would be penalized two strokes a hole, up to a maximum of four shots, for carrying a non-conforming club (such as one with a caved-in face) and would be disqualified if he used it, Russell said.
Stenson said he didn’t carry the club because he had no use for it, not because he knew the possible penalties. “I’d be lying if I said I knew the rule 100 percent,” he said.
“You asked me how well I knew the rules the other day. I gave myself a 7 out of 10, didn’t I? I guess this was in the other 30 percent, then.”