Stenson breaks five-year European Tour drought

Henrik Stenson tees off on the third hole during the final round of the South African Open Championship.

Henrik Stenson tees off on the third hole during the final round of the South African Open Championship.

Welcome back Henrik Stenson. You’ve been away too long.

Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez may have made a special bit of history with his Hong Kong Open victory, but Stenson winning the South African Open Championship is better news for the European Tour. Hopefully it signals a return to form for the affable Swede.

Stenson recorded his first European Tour win in five years, and the 7th of his career. He triumphed over a much weaker field than the one Jimenez overcame to set a record as the oldest European Tour winner ever. However, while the 48-year-old Jimenez is in the twilight of his career, Stenson should be in the prime of his.

It just hasn’t looked that way lately.

“I’ve had to fight hard the last few years on the golf course and I’m very pleased to pick up this win,” Stenson said.

“When it takes that long between wins you wonder if there will be another. You’ve just got to fight hard and put the work in. In this game you need to put a lot of effort in to get something back. I’m very relieved to have won this one.”

It wasn’t too long ago that the Dubai-based Swede seemed destined to become the first Swedish male to win a major championship. Between 2001 and 2007, he won six European Tour events, including two each in 2006 and 2007.

Between 2005 and 2008 he didn’t finish worse than eighth on the European Tour money list. He also played on the 2006 and 2008 European Ryder Cup teams.

He earned his biggest win in 2009 when he triumphed in The Players Championship. That seemed to be the forerunner to success in the majors. Yet instead of pushing on, he went backwards. From a high of fourth on the Official World Golf Ranking in 2009, Stenson sank as low as 230th earlier this year.

He sank to 49th on the European money list in 2010 and to 136th in 2011. He had started to show signs of recovery this year, with five top-10 European Tour finishes in the middle of the season before finally breaking through in South Africa.

"2011 in particular was a tough year with not much good going on on the course for me," Stenson said. "I’ve done a lot of hard work this year and made a lot of progress this season. I felt I was getting closer and closer and obviously I'm delighted to get a win before the end of the year.”

The victory moved Stenson to 45th on the European money list from 59th before the tournament. The win was timely since only the top 60 make it into this week’s DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, the Euro Tour’s final event of the season.

Don’t be surprised if Stenson seriously improves on that 45th place money spot with a good finish in Dubai. That would be great news for the European Tour, because Stenson has been missing action for too long.

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