NORTON — Henrik Stenson has spent so much time on leaderboards this year that the novelty is wearing off. Being in contention? That’s become the big Swede’s new norm.
He’s near the lead again, shooting a bogey-free 63 on Saturday at TPC Boston in the second round of the Deutsche Bank Championship. Tied for the day’s low round, it allowed Stenson to settle into a tie for second at 12 under par, with Roberto Castro, one shot behind Sergio Garcia.
A birdie-birdie finish put Stenson in the next-to-last pairing for Sunday’s third round. Playing late on a Sunday is second nature now for the 37-year-old from Gothenburg.
“You’re expecting to be there, instead of just hoping for it,” Stenson said. “It certainly doesn’t come as a surprise if you put yourself in contention when you’ve been [there] the last four tournaments.”
Stenson’s consistency this year has been impressive, but his reemergence from a staggering slump has made it even sweeter. His second of two victories on the PGA Tour — the 2009 Players Championship — helped send Stenson to a career-best No. 4 in the world rankings, surrounded by a lofty crowd that included Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Garcia.
By the beginning of 2012, though, Stenson’s rank had plummeted to 212th, a result of missed cuts and poor finishes. It would drop to No. 230 not long after that, before finally heading back in the right direction. Slowly at first, much quicker this year, to his current spot at No. 10.
The torrid stretch that Stenson has been on over the summer is the primary cause. He made the cut in all four majors, and had a very good chance to win the last two. He finished second at the British Open — clipped only by Mickelson’s closing 66 — and tied for third at the PGA. He sandwiched those around a second-place tie at the Bridgestone Invitational, and coughed up a final-round lead at the Scottish Open the week before the British, tying for third. Four tournaments: Two seconds, two thirds.
“I almost surprised myself to be able to be up there in four tournaments, and big events, as well,” Stenson said. “It’s been a lot of hard work and a long-term process to get into the fine play that I produced this summer.”
He’s done it this week while fighting the flu — “I’m running on a spare battery at the moment” — and coming at the end of a busy stretch that’s seen Stenson play five of the past seven weeks. But when you’re playing consistently well, you want to keep plodding away, as Stenson likes to say.
Stenson has played here just once before, in 2007, when he tied for 55th. He’s in position for a much better showing this time. Nobody in the field has hit more greens than Stenson (32 of 36), and his only bogey through two rounds came at No. 8 on Friday, when he three-putted.
Stenson made five birdies on the front nine Saturday, including four in a row, starting at the fourth. He added three more on the back nine, capped by a two-putt birdie at the 18th. Only one of Stenson’s eight birdie putts in the second round was from longer than 8 feet, which shows how solid his long game has been.
“Today I didn’t leave anything out there. Hitting a lot of fairways, hitting a lot of good iron shots into the greens, giving myself chances,” Stenson said. “Solid round of golf, and in contention once again going into the weekend, which is nice.”
The only thing missing from Stenson’s 2013 ledger is a win. Garcia doesn’t have one, either, nor does Castro. Those three combined for 22 birdies and two eagles in the second round. Whoa.
“It was a beautiful day. I feel quite comfortable on most of the holes,” said Garcia, who rolled in an 18-foot putt for eagle at No. 18 to shoot 64. “Some days you feel better than others. But hopefully I’ll be able to feel as good as I felt the first two days and put another two good scores on Sunday and Monday.”
Castro eagled the par-5 second and shot a front-nine 29, taking the lead before a bogey-double bogey swing on Nos. 13-14. He righted that with birdies on two of his final three holes.
Matt Kuchar (66) and PGA champion Jason Dufner (66) were tied for fourth at 10 under, with US Open winner Justin Rose (63), Harris English (67), and rookie phenom Jordan Spieth (66) another shot back at 9 under. Mickelson (71) is in the pack at 8 under, with Woods (67) among those six shots back. Quite a leaderboard.
It’s been a two-day sprint so far, but Stenson knows it’s wise to think longer term.
“I’ve said it so many times over these last two months, it’s a 3½-day marathon, to be on the back nine on the final round,” Stenson said. “This week is no different. That’s what we’re trying to do.”