Fun-loving Stenson takes Augusta's greens seriously

Henrik Stenson came close to his first major title in 2013, finishing second at the Open Championship.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Adam Scott removed Australia’s long wait for a Masters title last year. The Swedes aren’t so picky. They will settle for one of its countrymen winning any of the four majors. They are pulling for Jonas Blixt, Peter Hanson or Henrik Stenson to end the drought this week at the Masters. So Henrik, care to take a wild guess how many times you’ve been reminded that a Swede has never won a men’s major?

“No one has,” Stenson deadpanned.

Stenson and his wicked sense of humor were on display Tuesday morning when he met with the media to discuss his preparations for the season’s first major. The Gothenburg, Sweden, native knows full well that while Liselotte Neumann’s triumph at the 1988 U.S. Women’s Open launched a run of Swedish titles on the women’s side, the closest a male has come is a runner-up finish on three occasions. Stenson is one of them, having finished second behind Phil Mickelson at the 2013 Open Championship.

Stenson also was in the mix at the PGA Championship. But he hasn’t finished better than T-17 in the Masters, a tournament he had fond memories of watching on television as a kid.

“I fell asleep many nights to the Masters Tournament, very soothing music and the flowers,” he said.

His clearest memory? “When Sandy Lyle hit the 7‑iron out of the bunker on 18 in '88,” Stenson said.

Winning a major is foremost in Stenson’s sights now – for Sweden and for himself.

“It would be a nice thing for me to be the first to do that, but I'm more concerned about winning a major than being the first Swede to do it,” he said. “If one of my colleagues do it before me, it's not like I'm going to be devastated. That would be a great thing, and I'm more concerned about me winning one. That's kind of the one thing missing on my record.”

Stenson’s record – as well as his bank account – bulged last year when he claimed both the 2013 FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai. He ranks No. 3 in the Official World Golf Ranking and can jump to the No. 1 spot for the first time as long as he finishes no worse than a two-way tie for second this week (as long as neither Adam Scott nor Jason Day wins).

“When I pack up the clubs one day, to have been ranked No. 1 in the world at some point, I guess it has a nice tone to it,” Stenson said. “So I could live with that.”

Stenson, 38, began 2014 with a swollen right wrist and forearm, an injury that occurred while he was practicing at home last October. He finished runner-up at the Thailand Golf Championship, but hadn’t been in the top 15 until his T-5 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He admitted that his game hasn’t been “firing on all cylinders,” and yet Stenson still is among the favorites this week. Count PGA Tour veteran Paul Azinger among those touting Stenson.

“I feel he has the most simple, uncomplicated golf swing that there is,” Azinger, who works for ESPN. “Tee‑to‑green, I just think he's as good as there is.”

But will Stenson’s putter carry him through? He tends to run hot and cold on the greens and he conceded in his remarks that the short stick has betrayed him in recent starts.

“But that doesn't matter, because you don't need to putt well around Augusta, right?” Stenson joked.

All kidding aside, Stenson has devoted quite a good deal of his preparations to mastering Augusta’s slippery surfaces. How does one do that, he was asked?

“There’s not an easy way to prepare for it,” Stenson said. “I don’t know if you should drill a hole in your wooden floor. What are you supposed to do to simulate it?”

Stenson, who is making his ninth Masters start, said his past experience will come in handy, and that patience is the key. What has he learned from the adversity he’s experienced in his career that will help him to win his first major?

“I think that I don't give up that easily,” he answered. “If I can put myself in the mix again, then, you know, sooner or later, you'll get one of these.”

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