NORTON — Slutligen!
Henrik Stenson can be forgiven for screaming the Swedish word that means “finally.” After the summer he had on the golf course, the opportunities he created, and the close calls that frustratingly followed, winning a tournament was Stenson’s obvious — maybe inevitable — next step.
Anyone familiar with Stenson’s recent form won’t be surprised that he won the Deutsche Bank Championship Monday, shooting a 5-under-par 66 at TPC Boston to turn a two-shot deficit at the start of the final round into a two-shot win by the end. Stenson withstood a pushed-back start because of morning rain, a two-hour delay because of afternoon rain, and a cast of challengers that ranged in age from 20-year-old Jordan Spieth to 46-year-old Steve Stricker.
Few people have been able to beat Stenson since mid-July. Over Labor Day weekend, nobody could.
“Today was my turn. I was up there once again, putting myself in the mix,” Stenson said. “It’s nice to come through and win a big event after all the good finishes and close to winning like I’ve been the last couple of months.”
Stenson’s four-round total of 22-under 262 tied the tournament record, first shot by Vijay Singh in 2008 and matched by Charley Hoffman two years later. This one might not rank as impressive as those, if only because the weekend drenching soaked TPC Boston and gave players lift, clean, and place rules for the final two rounds.
But Stenson still had to find fairways and take advantage of those preferred lies. He missed just 12 fairways, led the field in greens in regulation (61 for 72), and saved par eight of the first 10 times he missed the green. On the 11th and last green he missed, Stenson did one better, holing his bunker shot from left of the 17th green for birdie. It restored his three-shot lead, and made for a nice, stress-free stroll up the 18th fairway. He hit that one, too, and although a three-putt par on the green cost him the outright scoring record, it did nothing to dampen his satisfaction.
“I forgive myself for three-putting the last one from 60 feet,” Stenson said. “I’ve been up there many times and today the chips fell my way, and I’m really, really happy about it.”
Stricker, the 2009 Deutsche Bank Championship winner, shot 67 and was second at 20 under, while Graham DeLaet birdied the last hole to shoot 69 and take solo third at 18 under. Spieth (career-low 62), Matt Kuchar (66), Kevin Stadler (68), and Sergio Garcia (73) tied for fourth, another shot back.
It was Garcia leading Stenson by two at the start of the round, but both players bogeyed the simple par-5 second: Garcia with a three-putt, Stenson when he put his second shot in the hazard.
But the tournament swung Stenson’s way almost immediately after that, when he strung together three straight birdies, beginning at No. 4. Combined with a bogey there by Garcia, it left the two tied. When Stenson added birdies at Nos. 5 (2 feet) and 6 (12 feet), he was in the lead for good.
“To come back and keep my calmness and produce birdies after [No. 2], that’s what I’m the most proud of out of this day,” Stenson said. “I knew I was ahead of the other guys. They were going to have to do something to catch me if I didn’t make any mistakes.”
Another birdie at No. 8 gave Stenson a three-shot lead when play was suspended at 2:07 p.m., and he rolled in a 31-footer at No. 11 not long after play resumed at 3:58 p.m. From there, it was a string of pars and the holeout at the 17th, which Stricker heard the reaction to as he began studying a long eagle putt at No. 18 that he hoped would be a chance to tie.
“I just kind of rolled my eyes. He’s been knocking at the door for a couple of months, he’s been playing some great golf,” Stricker said. “Good for him, great shot. He finally got his win.”
Stenson went 3-2-2-3 in four consecutive tournaments: the Scottish Open (when he led after three rounds), British Open, Bridgestone Invitational, and PGA Championship. He came to Boston tired and sick, and left with the only thing that’s eluded him this year.
It caps a rise from the second pronounced slump of Stenson’s professional career, one that started after he won the 2009 Players Championship. He dropped to as low as No. 230 in the world just 18 months ago. Now he’s back inside the top 10.
“Of course I’ve been low and frustrated at times,” Stenson said. “But I’m not giving up. I’m not a quitter. I’ll always bounce back.”
Now Stenson is someplace he’s never been before, leading the FedEx Cup points list with two tournaments left. First comes a welcome week off — “I could see my bed in front of me, my couch, for the next couple of days, like an oasis in the desert” — and then he’ll travel to Chicago for the BMW Championship, and the Tour Championship in Atlanta the week after that.
Stricker might not make it to Atlanta (he has a hunting trip to Colorado planned that week, and has never been bow hunting for elk before), but Stenson will be there, fresh off a win that seemed to be two months in the making.
“I’m just going to continue to try to play my best. That’s gotten me a very long way,” Stenson said. “I’ve always been a pretty good front-runner. I always like to think that the other guy is going to have to play better than I do, if I’m in the lead.”
That’s where Stenson is now. If Monday is any indication, he won’t be giving it up without a fight.