In desert, Stenson envisions path toward first major

Henrik Stenson won both the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai in 2013.

Henrik Stenson won both the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai in 2013.

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – More of the same will do for Henrik Stenson. The Swede will be happy if his 2014 season matches – or even slightly betters – the last half of 2013.

It could take him to the top of world and into previously uncharted territory. No Swedish male has won a major title. Stenson is hoping to become the first.

The affable Stenson is one of three men to come close to golfing nirvana. He finished second to Phil Mickelson in last year’s Open Championship, joining Swedish compatriots Jesper Parnevik and Niclas Fasth in a select club. They are the only three Swedish men to finish second in major championships. Parnevik was runner-up to Nick Price in the 1994 Open Championship at Turnberry, and Fasth finished behind David Duval in the 2001 Open at Royal Lytham.

“We haven’t had a male Swedish golfer winning a major championship yet," Stenson said. "I’m very positive it will happen at some point. Hopefully I can be the one."

Stenson, 37, added a third place in the 2013 PGA Championship before going on a late-season tear. He won the Deutsche Bank Championship and Tour Championship, claiming the season's FedEx Cup title. He also won the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai en route to the European Tour's Race to Dubai crown, becoming the first winner of the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai.

“Maybe we don’t need to better it (last season),” Stenson said. “Maybe we just need to equal it. I’m not greedy. I’ll be happy with the same year. I’ll take it once more.”

Stenson, at No. 3 in the Official World Golf Ranking and perhaps at the height of his game, thinks there’s room for improvement. He’s looking at getting better on the greens as his first priority.

“I definitely feel like I can gain shots in that area,” said Stenson, who ranked 98th last year in strokes gained-putting on the PGA Tour. “I’m probably about average in putting on the PGA Tour.

“My wedge game – probably 100, 120 yards – I can improve a lot, as well. Bunker play hasn’t been as good as it can either. So there’s still room for improvement.”

Last year's stats support his self-critique. Stenson ranked 92nd on Tour in greens-in-regulation percentage at 100-125 yards, with 75 percent accuracy. In sand-save percentage, he was 134th, at 46.24 percent.

However, his focus will be on capturing that elusive grand-slam title.

“That’s the last thing on my CV to add," he said. "That would be the icing on the cake. It’s kind of the one thing missing, so that’s going to be my main focus.”

Another tournament missing from Stenson’s CV is this week’s $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Stenson has a residence in Dubai and has been a huge supporter of Europe’s Desert Swing. Indeed, he has played in every Dubai Desert Classic, Qatar Masters and Abu Dhabi Championship since he joined the European Tour in 2001. He has won in Dubai and Qatar but has so far failed to win in Abu Dhabi, although he finished second in 2006 and 2008.

“It’s the one tournament down in this part of the world that I haven’t won,” Stenson said. “It would be nice to add to the collection here, having made Dubai my home for almost 10 years.”

No one would be surprised if Stenson began this season as he finished last year. A victory here would provide further proof that he is ready to take that “major” step.

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