This time last year, nobody in the world was playing better golf than Henrik Stenson, who validated that form by winning the Deutsche Bank Championship, his first victory on the PGA Tour in more than four years.
The way Stenson had been playing, it was no surprise. Nor was it a shock three weeks later, when Stenson went wire to wire at the Tour Championship, becoming the fourth straight player to take home $11.44 million in one day: $10 million for winning the FedEx Cup, the rest from finishing first in the 30-player tournament.
That’s the most recent victory on the PGA Tour for Stenson, but the Tour Championship wasn’t his final visit to the 2013 winner’s circle. He closed a stunning stretch by winning the DP World Tour Championship in November, claiming the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, also on the same day. It gave Stenson the season-long points titles on both the PGA and European tours, the only time someone has pulled off the double in the same season.
That’s a whole bunch of great golf, and it shot the 38-year-old Swede to No. 3 on the world ranking list (after inching up to No. 2 earlier this year, Stenson is again ranked third).
By his own admission, Stenson should have taken a lengthy break after the best year of his career, but there wasn’t much down time between last season and this one. As far as results go, it has cost him in 2014, because he’s currently 66th on the FedEx Cup points list, without a win.
But as he prepared to defend his Deutsche Bank Championship title this week at TPC Boston, Stenson sounded like a man with no regrets. Well, maybe one.
“I might have to be better at saying no at times,” Stenson said last week in Paramus, N.J., where he was finishing in a tie for 38th at the Barclays. “I felt like I got into a bit of short-term thinking in the middle of the year, and that’s never great.
“There was a long-term process that got me playing so well last year, so I’m just trying to get back into that.
“Bridgestone and PGA [two recent tournaments], I felt like that was the first time this year I actually had 10 days where I could work on my game. I didn’t have a lot of commitments off the golf course, and I could really focus on my core business, which apparently is playing golf, and not doing a million other things.”
If it sounds like Stenson is encountering some strong waves while navigating the waters of professional golf stardom, he is. But he has been an elite talent for some time, playing in his first Ryder Cup in 2006, winning the Match Play Championship six months later, and taking the Players Championship in 2009.
Much of the next four years were mostly forgettable, with Stenson dropping as low as No. 230 in the world rankings before last year’s resurgence. It started with a second-place finish in Houston, and included strong showings at the Masters (T18), Players (T5), and US Open (T21).
But then the calendar flipped to July, and Stenson’s game began to mirror the summer heat. He went 3-2-2-3, with one of the seconds coming at the Open Championship, and one of the thirds at the PGA.
Winning, it seemed, was inevitable.
“Once you’re up in contention every week, you want to be there, and when you tee it up on Thursday — or Friday, as in Deutsche Bank’s case — then you almost expect to be there by the weekend because you’re playing well,” said Stenson. “I had that feeling for a long time.
“Finally it was my week, and sometimes you feel like you deserve a win. I had certainly played some good golf, and it paid off last year in Boston.
“I would have been delighted looking back at 2013 with a win at Deutsche Bank, and if that had been it, then it would have been a great year. But it snowballed.”
It did, because two more big wins followed, in Atlanta and Dubai.
There wasn’t much carryover in the early part of this season, with a tie for fifth at Bay Hill Stenson’s only top-10 finish until he arrived at Pinehurst in June for the US Open. That tournament will be remembered for Martin Kaymer destroying the field, but Stenson tied for fourth, then followed that with a tie for 19th at the Bridgestone, and a tie for fifth at the PGA Championship.
Just like last year, his game is starting to heat up, just as the playoffs get under way.
“I’m not unhappy with my season,” he said. “I think given the circumstances of being tired when I started the year, not rested, and not practiced, I knew it was going to be a grind.
“I’m pretty pleased with the performances I’ve done still. It has been a decent year.”
Stenson will attempt to make history in Norton this week. Nobody has ever won the DBC in consecutive years.
Nobody has gone back-to-back at the Tour Championship, either. But at 66th in the points race, Stenson has work to do if he even wants an opportunity to defend at East Lake.
“It would be sad not to make it there, to be able to defend,” Stenson said. “I’m just trying to have a strong couple of weeks here.
“With the structure, with five times the points, I’m not out of it by any means. I can still lift that trophy once again.”Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.