5 Things: One man’s misfortune . . .

Henrik Stenson
Henrik Stenson ( Associated Press )

Sunday, February 20, 2011

When Toru Taniguchi dropped out of this week’s WGC-Match Play Championship with a neck injury, focus immediately turned to the player who would fill his No. 64 spot. That man, improbably, is Henrik Stenson, who holds a lofty ranking despite two sub-par seasons since winning the 2009 Players Championship.

Indeed, Stenson had just one top-10 finish in 15 PGA Tour starts in 2010 (a T-3 in the Open Championship), and he’s 167th on the 2011 European Tour Order of Merit, with €11,637 in three starts. Yet he’ll play in the first World Golf Championships event of the season, even if his first-round match appears to be a mismatch. This Wednesday at the Ritz-Carlton Club, Stenson will be matched against the top-ranked player in the world, Lee Westwood.

If it’s any consolation, Stenson should have good vibes in the Arizona desert: He won the WGC-Match Play in 2007. But much like his triumph at the Players, it seems like a long, long time ago.

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Sure, Yani Tseng stole the show with a victory in the LPGA lid-lifter, but another youngster delivered a remarkable performance in her native Thailand. Only a few days after learning that she had secured a sponsor invite into the Kraft Nabisco Championship, 15-year-old Ariya Jutanugarn finished in a share of eighth in the Honda LPGA Thailand, beating the likes of Na Yeon Choi (15th), Cristie Kerr (18th) and Ai Miyazato (29th). Had she been a pro, Jutanugarn would have earned about $30,000 – not bad for a girl who has yet to receive her U.S. driver’s license.

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Celine Boutier was part of a French contingent that was difficult to ignore at last week’s AJGA Annika Invitational. Boutier, of Montrouge, is a member of the French national team that was in Orlando, Fla., with the team’s coach, Edward Brechignac. Teammate Manon Gidali also played at Reunion Resort, and two other players made the trip to practice.

This wasn’t the first time the French national team had appeared on the U.S. junior golf scene. They also were at the Polo Junior Golf Invitational in 2010 and the Junior Orange Bowl.

“To play with another player, to play other girls, other conditions, the grass is different, everything is different – it’s good for (Boutier) to learn new things,” Brechignac said.

• • •

Is Riviera becoming the new playground for Australians? Aaron Baddeley won the Northern Trust Open on Feb. 20, becoming the third Aussie to win in Los Angeles in the past 10 years (Robert Allenby, 2001; Adam Scott, ’05).

The Northern Trust Open was the strongest field to date on the PGA Tour, even without the top three players in the Official World Golf Ranking. Little surprise, then, that so many international flags dotted the leaderboard at Riviera. Significantly shaping the landscape in L.A. were three Australians, two Englishmen and one big Fijian. Nine of the top-20 finishers, in fact, were international players, including the champion, Baddeley, who earned his third PGA Tour victory, and first since ’07.

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The Home of Golf wants its golfers to be more competitive on the global level. Throwing money at it might be one way to accomplish that.

Scotland golf officials have organized a new program designed to spur success from young professionals. Scottish Hydro, one of the UK’s leading energy companies, has pledged to cover all tournament-related expenses for five Challenge Tour players at the start of each season.

It’s a bid to help produce more Scottish European Tour and Ryder Cup stars, and to keep up with elite European golf unions. The Scottish players chosen for 2011 are Gavin Dear, Chris Doak, Craig Lee, Callum Macaulay and Jamie McLeary.

“This is a huge help in turning our dreams into a reality,” Lee said. “To have this kind of backing means so much. We are now able to navigate our way around the tour with a level of support that has never been there before, and I know it is going to make a huge difference.”

The financial backing could be worth $40,000 a player.

Team Scottish Hydro was sparked from an idea by Iain Stoddart, a Scottish tournament promoter and golf manager.

“Everybody knows it’s a hard business getting to the European Tour, and the Scots had something short of level playing field compared to other countries around the world in terms of sponsorship and assistance,” Stoddart told The Courier, a Scottish newspaper.

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