For a while Saturday, it appeared there was as much drama at the Tour Championship as in a paint-drying contest. Henrik Stenson was again on cruise control and led by nine strokes at one point in the third round. The tournament and FedEx Cup races both appeared over.
But an odd development happened on the way to foregone conclusion. After it starting raining, Stenson shot 38 on the back nine and Dustin Johnson had 33 and, just like that, the Swede’s lead was only four strokes over Johnson entering Sunday. Stenson is six ahead of Steve Stricker and seven up on a group that includes Zach Johnson.
So, all together now: Hold everything.
Because he entered the week No. 2 in points, Stenson remains a big favorite to win the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus. He can do so even if he doesn’t win the season-ending tournament. But there’s more drama entering Sunday, particularly with regard to the Tour Championship, than Stenson would have liked or anyone had expected when he was nine ahead.
“It’s still an open ballgame,” Stenson said.
Here are 5 Things to Know after Saturday’s rainy day at East Lake:
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1. THE CUP SCENARIOS: There are fewer possibilities after 54 holes than in past years because of Stenson’s cushion. The Cup and event are his to win or lose. He has a better chance of not winning the tournament.
If Johnson wins the Tour Championship, Stenson would still win the Cup if he finishes in sixth place or better. It’s unlikely he will fall that far, since he’s seven shots ahead of the four-way tie for fourth and it’s hard to make up a lot of ground here – particularly in nice weather, which is forecast Sunday.
“This is a great golf course to protect on because there’s really not that much danger,” Tiger Woods said. “It’s so easy to shoot 68 to 72 (and) it’s hard to go low.”
If Stricker or Zach Johnson rallies and wins the tournament, either would claim the Cup.
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2. STENSON’S RISE, SLIP: Golf’s hottest player since June, the Swede again blistered the front nine, shooting 31. He’s 13 under par on the front.
But he made four bogeys against a par-5 birdie on the back in shooting 69. The final three bogeys came during pouring rain – two because of bad swings, the last at 18 on three putts. He did not blame the rain, though, saying others on the leaderboard played in the same conditions.
Stenson, though, said he lost his rhythm and hit a couple of wayward shots and that it was difficult to regain top form in the rain.
He hooked a drive into a bush at 14, dropped and then saved bogey from 11 feet. He made what he called a “crucial” par save from 16 feet at the 17th after he drove off a hospitality tent on the right.
“I’ll choose to look at it from the bright side even though the weather is not that bright at the moment,” said Stenson, whose Deutsche Bank victory was one of his five top-3 finishes since June. said. “Started the day with a four-shot lead and I’ve still got it. So that’s all that matters really. . . .
“To think you’re going to carry on all week without running into trouble is asking for too much.”
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3. THE WOODS GANG: Tiger Woods’ girlfriend, Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn, looked after the golfer’s two children (Sam, 6, and Charlie, 4) in the gallery Saturday. Daughter Sam sat in Vonn’s lap on at least one hole on the back nine.
They didn’t have much to cheer about, though. Woods didn’t make a birdie until chipping in at 14. He shot 69, bemoaned a two-way miss and is tied for 26th, 14 shots off the lead.
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4. WHERE’S THE CHALLENGE? The likes of Woods and Stricker say they are not surprised by Stenson’s continued brilliance. Rather, Stricker wondered where everybody else is.
“I’m surprised by the rest of the field,” Stricker said. “It seems like a lot of lackluster play. I think guys are flat. It seems like a lot of guys are tired. You know, it’s the end of the year.”
Part of the problem: Adam Scott fell ill and fell out of contention. He got sick Friday night, felt worse Saturday morning because of flu-like symptoms, shot 74 and dropped from second to a tie for 10th.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Jason Dufner shot 66, the day’s low and only bogey-free round. It was one better than Dustin Johnson, Luke Donald and Brandt Snedeker. . . . Johnson said he did some needed work on his putting with coach Butch Harmon after three-putting “like 10 times” at the BMW Championship. He ranks 22nd in putting this week. . . . Largely because of strong ball-striking, Johnson went 39 holes without a bogey–from the first round’s 11th hole through No. 14 Saturday. . . . Stenson got a new 4-wood head and attached it to his old shaft, but he didn’t use the club Saturday. His 4-wood face caved when he warmed up Friday, leading him to play with 13 clubs that day. . . . Stenson on the rain: “This is kids’ stuff compared to the Saturday round at the (2011) British Open at St. George’s. That was like playing in a car wash.” . . . Zach Johnson on Stenson playing so well after breaking his driver Monday at the BMW Championship: “Maybe we all should have broke our driver last week.” . . . No player has won consecutive FedEx Cups. Defending champion Snedeker is tied for 22nd.