A nail-biter it wasn’t. This Tour Championship belonged to Henrik Stenson almost from the moment he landed at Hartsfield-Jackson earlier this week. He could have filled out the $11.4 million deposit slip while signing his Thursday scorecard.
The Swede indeed swept to a three-stroke victory in the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club on Sunday, also claiming the $10 million FedEx Cup windfall. That easily made him the PGA Tour’s second-leading money winner from his homeland, next to Tiger Woods’ ex, Elin Nordegren.
What played out Sunday were story lines more subtle than one shot here or there, either dramatic or disastrous.
The Tour Championship paid witness to one of the most sustained, consistent efforts imaginable. Stenson put up five birdies on his first nine holes Thursday and rode his lead wire to wire. He wobbled only slightly in the rain Saturday and then came out the next day as solid as Stone Mountain granite, shooting a 2-under 68.
That Stenson’s career has experienced dizzying ascents and plummets only made the steady nature of this victory more meaningful. He has gone through slumps that would make B.J. Upton’s look mild. His latest: dropping from No. 4 in the world after winning the 2009 Players Championship to No. 230 at the start of 2012.
The tournament also was a very telling peek at the future of the game. Oh, a few tried to make stabs at Stenson. Playing partner Dustin Johnson got within three strokes after a birdie on No. 3, but then faltered. Steve Stricker, after an eagle-3 on No. 15, was two shots shy of the lead and a momentary curiosity. Had Webb Simpson not begun the day in another zip code on the leaderboard, his 7-under 63 might have meant more.
No, making the most determined run at Stenson was Heir Jordan, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, golf’s next big thing. In one 10-hole stretch, Spieth piled up seven birdies — four in a row on holes 13-16 — and for a microsecond was within a stroke of Stenson, until Spieth’s par-saving 18-foot putt on No. 17 caught only a rumor of the hole.
Spieth will have his day and many more before his hands begin to shake on the putter’s grip.
“It’s just great fun to watch someone coming straight out of college (University of Texas) and getting straight on tour and winning and playing so well,” Stenson said. “He’s fearless. That’s great.”
But the end of summer belonged to Stenson. Following his runner-up finish at the British Open, he has amassed a second, a third and two victories along with a couple lesser performances. However the math of golf’s peculiar playoff system works, in this case it surely did reward the best player of the moment.
“Great day, great week, great year,” he enthused.
In his huge payday — $10 million for the FedEx Cup title, $1.4 million for winning the Tour Championship — Stenson also can claim a measure of financial revenge. The financier who bilked him other investors out of millions in a 2009 Ponzi scheme is behind bars. And Stenson is once more rolling in green.
Stenson made his the old-fashioned way: he worked for it. Coincidental with his big financial hit was his latest big dip in the world rankings. He just fell off the face of golf. What does his return to the very upper level at age 37 say, he was asked.
“I think it says that I never give up,” said Stenson.
“It’s obviously the work that I’d done before. It wasn’t like you woke up in the middle of July and you start playing fantastic. It’s just been a great summer, way beyond what I could imagine. My play since mid-July has been incredible.”
Sunday, Stenson played it safe, more with the mindset of a guy investing in certificates of deposit rather than pork belly futures. He can be a hot-headed sort. Just six days ago, he destroyed a driver and a locker door in frustration. But apparently, he also can be quite calm when the occasion calls.
He never betrayed an emotion on the course Sunday.
“I was most nervous probably before we started playing, really. Once you get going, you kind of get into things,” he said.
Content to aim for fairways and the fat part of greens, he dared the field to come get him. His 13-under for the week was a bar too high for the rest of them.
“It was close at times, but yet he had it under control, I think,” said Stricker, who tied with Spieth for second at 10-under. Case in point: Stenson followed his one lonely bogey Sunday with an immediate birdie on the following hole, the par-5 15th, erasing the last dust speck of doubt.
Not a dramatic ending to competitive hostilities, just a fitting one.
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