5 Things: Stenson soars; Spieth opens eyes; more
Sunday, September 22, 2013
How Swede it is.
Henrik Stenson went wire-to-wire at the Tour Championship for his fourth PGA Tour title and in doing so also took home the FedEx Cup trophy for an $11.44 million payday.
The 37-year-old Stenson, who held a nine-stroke lead midway through the third round, watched it dwindle to one stroke before he birdied the 15th hole and went on to a three-shot victory. Stenson parred in for a 2-under 68 and a 72-hole total of 267. It was his second victory during the past four weeks.
Stenson, a native of Gothenburg, Sweden, did his damage early, playing the front nine at East Lake Golf Club bogey-free over the four days and in 14 under. He made his lone Sunday bogey at the 14th when he caught a flyer and missed the green to the left. Up ahead, Jordan Spieth had rolled in his fourth straight birdie and trailed by one.
“I heard the roar, so I figured –I'm not just a pretty face,” Stenson said. “I could put one and one together.”
Unfazed by the dropped shot, Stenson countered with a birdie on the 15th and struck a beauty from a fairway bunker at the 17th that landed 15 feet from the hole.
“I think that was the best shot we’ve seen all day right there,” NBC’s Johnny Miller said. That was absolutely flawless.”
And so are the two new trophies.
Steve Stricker made the most of skipping out on his hunting trip and shared second with Spieth, the 20-year-old sensation. Here are 5 Things to Know from the season finale in Atlanta:
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1. STENSON'S BIG DAY: “Put yourself in Stenson's head this morning,” tweeted Paul Azinger before the final round. “Waiting...waiting. 4 shot lead. Chance to win $10 million! Or blow it while millions watch.”
That about summed it up.
Afterwards, Stenson commented on the challenge at hand. “It was probably as tough of a situation as I've been in in terms of having that big lead yesterday,” Stenson said of having his nine-shot lead trimmed to four after 54 holes. “That was the hard bit to put everything aside, as always, and focus on the right things.”
Stenson didn’t destroy his driver or a locker like he did the week before in Chicago. Instead, he placed his faith in what had gotten him to this point. Stenson has been the hottest golfer on the planet since the Scottish Open in July. In his last six starts, Stenson had finished outside the top 3 just twice. Just two years ago he endured a slump and tumbled all the way to 230th in the world.
“Once you're kind of on the downhill spiral, it's hard to break it,” Stenson said. “It was a lot of frustration.”
How bad was he? He finished 186th or worse in ballstriking, greens in regulation and total driving on Tour in 2011. Now he’s 1-1-3 in those categories.
How good was his ballstriking during the FedEx Cup? Stenson led the field in greens in regulation in three of the four FedEx Cup events.
“To come back, that's what pays off, the hard work,” Stenson said. “I think it says that I never give up.”
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2. SPIETH CONTINUES TO AMAZE: Jordan Spieth capped off an incredible season by firing a 6-under-par 64 in the final round to apply a little heat on Stenson and finish tied for second with Steve Stricker.
Spieth began the year without status on any professional tour and had to compete in a Thursday qualifier. He earned a two-year PGA Tour exemption for winning the John Deere Classic, made nearly $4 million and finished seventh in the FedEx Cup standings.
“Does it make you mad that in his first year he has beaten you on the all-time money list?” commentator Terry Gannon playfully asked Johnny Miller.
He wasn’t alone. The runner-up check helped Spieth leapfrog over Hall of Famer Lee Trevino, too.
“The beginning of the year, my goal, I've said it a million times, it was just to get on Tour next season,” Spieth said.
Spieth did much more than that. He made a bold back-nine charge to win, and with four birdies in a row at Nos. 13-16 had cut Stenson’s lead to one. But he made a fatal mistake on his second shot at the 17th hole, knocking it into a buried lie in the left greenside bunker.
“I tried to just kill a 9 (iron),” Spieth said. “Just hit it a touch fat.”
It led to a bogey, but it didn’t take the shine off another impressive performance.
“We are running out of superlatives for this guy,” NBC’s Dan Hicks said.
Next up for Spieth is the Presidents Cup team, and he can’t wait.
“The biggest stage is coming in a week and a half here,” Spieth said. “So I'm excited for it.”
So are his teammates.
“I know everybody wants to be his partner,” Webb Simpson said.
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3. KEEGAN'S "HIGHLIGHT OF THE YEAR": Keegan Bradley’s approach from the fairway at the par-4 seventh one-hopped into the hole for an eagle. With Jason Dufner in his twosome, Bradley reacted by dropping to the ground and Dufnering.
“I’ve wanted to do it all year,” Bradley said later. “I thought if I get the chance to do it, I’m going to do it. I didn’t expect to make that shot. I told Duf, I don’t care what happens. It was the highlight of the year for me.”
To which Dufner responded, “It's pretty sad his highlight of the year involves me.”
Adding to the drama was a side bet between the two friends for total hole-outs during the course of the season.
“Coming into the day, he was one up (in hole-outs),” Dufner said of Bradley. “And then he holes out there on seven, and that was pretty much it.”
Earlier in the round, as they walked up the first fairway, Dufner said he was going to hole out a shot to tie the wager.
“I was (annoyed) because he holed out, and he went past me on the leaderboard and took a two-up advantage in total hole-outs,” Dufner said.
But Dufner edged Bradley on the day, shooting a 65 to Bradley’s 67, and rallied with a 66-65 on the weekend for a T-9 finish. Bradley’s T-12 was enough to finish No. 19 in the final FedEx Cup standings. Who was No. 20? You guessed it: Dufner.
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4. WOODS SETTLES FOR 2ND IN CUP: Tiger Woods entered the Tour Championship as the leader of the FedEx Cup but never factored in the tournament. He carded a final-round 67 and finished in a tie for 22nd place with an even-par total of 280.
Woods shot even par on the front side, offsetting a birdie at the second with a bogey at the eighth. He got hot and made birdies at Nos. 9, 12, 14 and 15 before making one last bogey at No. 16. Despite the lackluster performance this week, Woods was rewarded for his five-win season with a second-place finish in the final FedEx Cup standings.
When asked how satisfied he was with his year, Woods replied, “Very satisfied. I had a number of chances to win some tournaments. I won five, which is, I think, a pretty good year. I've done that a few times over the course of my career. I wish I would have been a little more consistent in some of the events, but overall, at the end of the day, you know, to add to the win total for the year, it's always a good thing.”
Woods isn’t done playing golf just yet. He said he plans to rest next week before the Presidents Cup, and he’ll strategize with captain Fred Couples on who he might pair with in foursomes and four-ball matches.
“Freddie's been blowing up my phone with some options and what he thinks for some of the pairings,” Woods said. “We’ve got some options going into it.”
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5. SHORT SHOTS: In recapping his season, Phil Mickelson noted that it was one filled with many highs and lows – and he might adjust his schedule in the 2013-2014 to remove some of the lows. “I think that I'm going to have to factor that into some of my scheduling and maybe cut out 25 percent of my events in an effort to play at a high level when I do play, because I know that I'm not able to do it 25 weeks a year,” he said. “Maybe I can do it 18 or 20, though.” . . . Webb Simpson shot the low round of the day, a 63, and finished alone in fourth. . . . Dustin Johnson, who made it to East Lake on the number as No. 30, improved to No. 13 in the final FedEx Cup standings. . . . Johnson belted a 368-yard drive at the par-5 ninth hole that was 51 yards longer than Justin Rose, who hit the next-longest tee shot there Sunday. . . . Steve Stricker finished T-2 for his career-best fourth runner-up finish of the season, and 101st top-10 finish of his career.