Just three days after Henrik Stenson decapitated his driver on the 18th hole in the final round of the weather-delayed BMW Championship and then assaulted his locker at Conway Farms, the Swede put on a ballstriking clinic at East Lake in the opening round of the Tour Championship.
Stenson fired a six-under 64, rolling in five birdies on the front nine, including four in a row from nos. 4-7. He wasn’t as perfect on the back, but he did rebound from a bogey on no. 16 with a birdie on no. 18 to take the first-round lead.
This was the first time Stenson had qualified for the Tour Championship, but he only played one nine-hole practice round because of tendinitis in his wrist (injury unrelated to the incidents on Monday). Obviously, deciding to rest up was just what he needed.
“There was a couple of good things out there today,” said Stenson, who is known for his wit, along with his fiery temper at times. “One, my wrist didn’t feel bad this morning when I woke up. It’s been a pretty heavy regime there, icing it, couple of anti-inflammatories and treatment on it. So that seemed to have done the trick. We’re happy with that, and I hope I continue the recovery. That didn’t bother me today playing, which was very nice. Going from just hit a couple of shots on the range yesterday and didn’t play to feeling almost no problem whatsoever. So that was a big turnaround.
“I think I just I really knew I had to be in a good frame of mind coming out there if I wanted to play good golf this week. As some of you noticed, I wasn’t that on Monday when I finished up in Chicago. So it was a good turnaround mentally. I stayed very level headed, kept the head on, on both myself and drivers, and played a great round of golf.”
Here’s the video of Stenson breaking his driver:
When asked about it in his pre-tourney press conference on Wednesday, he candidly answered questions regarding the incident with his classic self-deprecating dry humor. In case you need more examples of Stenson’s legendary wit and temper and general craziness, I compiled a top 10 list during the PGA Championship.
Q. Henrik, safe to assume you have a new driver in the bag this week?
HENRIK STENSON: Yes, we got the new TaylorMade SLDR in the bag this week. It’s not always something bad that doesn’t have something good with it.
I finally got a good chance I had a look at that driver at the Scottish Open but didn’t have time to test it, and then I had a quick session at Firestone, but I felt like I was in the middle of things. For whatever reason, I kind of had to get into testing a new driver.
It feels pretty good, and it creates less spin for me. It sounds like a commercial now, doesn’t it? It’s definitely a stronger ball flight into the wind, and I’m definitely a player with quite a lot of spin on my golf ball. So I think it could be a good switch.
Q. Was that sort of in the back of your mind last week when you got rid of the old one?
HENRIK STENSON: Yeah, absolutely. That was the main focus. Get something with a little bit less spin. Let’s finish the old one off right here and now in front of everybody on 18. Perfect.
Q. What did you do with the old one?
HENRIK STENSON: I don’t know. I think Keith at TaylorMade has got the old one. He might make it into like a pen holder or something for his desk.
Only Stenson could turn breaking his driver into a marketing campaign.
Let’s check out the damage he did to this locker on Monday, courtesy of pictures obtained by Golf.com.
Stenson has apologized to the club, locker room attendants and all the appropriate parties, and of course, gave Conway Farms his billing address.
“I just needed to realize the world is a good place again,” said Stenson when asked about his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act. “I’m there now for sure, and I intend to stay there.”
Q. Henrik, did venting on 18 Monday or in the locker room have anything at all to do with your sore wrist?
HENRIK STENSON: No, sir. I was sore in another place, but that’s a different story.
Q. I think a lot of people would wonder how someone can go to winning a tournament to the world not being in a good place so quickly. How does that happen?
HENRIK STENSON: I can hear you don’t have much experience with Swedes, do you?
No, I mean, I’ll tell you, I mean, I’ve always been a bit of a hot head, and it kind of builds up, and eventually it goes over the limit. To me for me, it comes down to being tired. I played so much golf. I played so well, and I just haven’t been able to get any rest.
I was looking forward to that Monday back home and lying on the couch. The kids in school and me just doing nothing, and I ended up playing golf again on that Monday. So it was you know, I was just tired, and I pushed myself over the edge there.
That’s not the best place to be and not the best frame of mind to play good golf. I’m really delighted with the change I made to today.
Obviously, I am not a proponent or advocate of destroying other peoples’ property — and I know if Tiger Woods had done the same thing, it would have resulted in a mad deluge of criticism and holier-than-thou columns — but it’s sort of funny in Stenson’s case. I can’t explain it exactly, besides saying, you just kind of have to know him and you’ll find his crazy Swede act to be endearing because he really is one of the nicest and best guys out on Tour (I’d go as far to say he’s in my top 3 or 5).
Look, there are double standards all the time in life, and Tiger is held to a higher one because he is indeed the greatest player in the world (and possibly in history). You know what they say, with great power comes great responsibility… Stenson doesn’t quite have the same impact as Woods does and he handles these situations very differently.
Oh, so the story about how he destroyed the locker exactly?
“I kicked a box of towels a few times, then saw I broke the shelf in the corner in the locker, so I thought I might as well go the whole way and finish the job,” said Stenson, with a wry smile.
Especially since he was paying for the whole thing, anyway. Go big, or go home, right?
Back to golf! Stenson, who played alongside Woods, threw darts and ended up with good yardages.
“I ended up with quite a lot of good yardages,” said Stenson. “Then it’s always that bonus factor. When it’s your day, you’re hitting good shots and getting them as close as I got them, I’m pretty sure I could have hit the same number of good shots, but another day, you’re 20 feet away, 10 feet away.”
He hit it to about eight inches on no. 4, four feet on no. 5, a foot on no. 6 and then he didn’t quite catch his approach into no. 7, so he had to make a 10-footer for birdie on that hole.
“Just some days it works out really good for you,” he said. “Of course, I had good numbers, and I hit good shots…It’s a golf course that it’s hard to play well out of the rough, that’s for sure, and I definitely hit a lot of fairways and greens. Of course, I did enough in that department today and when I didn’t, I scrambled well.”
His playing partner Tiger Woods, had the opposite experience today. (In case you care right now, Stenson obviously has retaken the lead in the FedExCup points race for the ten-million-dollar wheelbarrow, but IT’S JUST SO VOLATILE, and there are THREE MORE ROUNDS, so who knows what might happen!)
Woods shot a three-over 73 and only beat one player (Jason Dufner) in the 30-man field. Tiger failed to make a birdie on Thursday for the first time since the first round of the 2010 U.S> Open. He has now only played eight rounds (seven as a professional) on the PGA Tour (1,121 overall rounds, 1,083 as a pro) without posting a birdie: 2013 TOUR Championship (R1), 2010 U.S. Open (R1), 2007 THE PLAYERS (R1), 2003 Masters (R1), 1999 Open Championship (R3), 1998 TOUR Championship (R1 & 2) and the 1995 Open Championship (R4/amateur).
Tiger denied all media requests afterwards, but he did compliment Stenson’s effort when they finished.
“He said really well played when we came off 18,” said Stenson. “It’s a nice feeling to hit those kind of shots playing with the world’s best player — normally, it’s him who does it to everyone else, but it was kind of nice to throw a couple at him.
“We know he didn’t have the best of days, and he’s going to fight hard to try to come back into the tournament. It’s still a long way to go, but it’s always nice to perform the way I did when you’re playing with the world’s best player.”
Tiger struggled on the greens and needed 34 putts. Ouch.
“Obviously, frustrating on the greens,” said Stenson when asked to assess Tiger’s struggles. “He didn’t make a birdie out there. That’s very unusual. I wouldn’t say he was playing bad, but he missed you know, it’s one of those days. Missed a couple of times in the wrong spot and made bogeys on three occasions, I think, then.
“I mean, if you’re not making any birdies, then it’s going to be a bad day, simple as that. On a good day, you might make one or two up and downs and then roll a couple in. We know how small the margins are. He could have been 2 under or 1 under with the same play if you just take your opportunities. Certainly days, it just doesn’t work out for you.”
Meanwhile, Adam Scott jumped on the birdie train on the back nine, holing six of them, to post a 29 coming in after a slow start. Scott fired a five-under 65 to trail Stenson by a shot.
Billy Horschel and the semi-retired Steve Stricker posted a pair of respectable 66s.