Henrik Stenson capped off the best stretch of golf in his career with a victory at the Tour Championship, along with the FedExCup, the biggest paycheck in the game. Stenson entered the final round with a four-shot cushion and played rather conservatively on Sunday, hitting fairway woods and irons off the tee, and just sort of hanging on, though he shot a respectable two-under 68 to a wire-to-wire win by a three-stroke margin over Jordan Spieth and Steve Stricker.
Stenson’s only mistake of the day came on no. 14, where he flew the green and made bogey, while Spieth birdied no. 16 to get to 11-under. For a little while, Spieth had closed the gap to a shot and Stenson was aware.
“I heard the roar, so I figured I’m not just a pretty face,” said Stenson. “I could put one and one together. I figured it was him that made the par on 16. And then I was not in a great spot. It was all about getting back up on the green and trying to knock a long par putt in.
“I knew I had the par 5 coming up. If I could hit a good tee shot and get myself back in good position to try to make birdie. Once I made that one, I’m not sure if I saw that he might have bogeyed 17.”
Stenson made an eight-footer for birdie on no. 15 and Spieth bogeyed no. 17, but Henrik also had a close eye on Stricker, who was playing in the group ahead of him.
“Steve was the group ahead of me, and he was 10 (under) at that moment,” said Stenson. “So he would have had a chance to pick up some shots as well. It was definitely game on, and I just tried my hardest to make pars and play smart the last couple of holes.”
Stenson, who dropped to no. 230 in the world rankings 21 months ago, walked away with both trophies, $1.44 million check for winning the Tour Championship and a $10 million bonus for capturing the FedExCup. Yep, that’s an $11.44 million-dollar payday.
“It’s having these two trophies with my fourth time on the PGA Tour and then to be the FedExCup Champion, that means a whole lot to me than the money,” said Stenson, who also won the Deutsche Bank Championship, the second leg of the FedExCup Playoffs. “Of course, it’s a nice bonus, and it will be able to pay for the extra four coke machines that I promised away to a few people and the party. I’m sure it will sink in at a later time.”
He’ll also jump to no. 4 in the world rankings, matching a career-best after he won the Players Championship in 2009.
“I think it says that I never give up,” said Stenson when asked about his resurgence. “I went from way, way back down in 2001 and got back up to No. 4 the week after my win at Sawgrass in 2009. So I’m obviously touching my personal best there.
“If I keep on playing well, I will have a chance, I guess, later on in the year to be able to improve on that…it’s just been a great summer. I mean, way beyond what I could imagine. The play that I performed here since midJuly has been incredible. It’s obviously the work that I’d done before. It wasn’t like you wake up in the middle of July and you start playing fantastic. I put the work in in the spring.
“And once again, I want to thank my team because I owe them a big part of my success, and they’re all working hard for me. All the support from everybody else, including you guys.”
Stenson will also have a chance to win the European Tour’s version of the FEC, the Race to Dubai. While Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy won both the PGA Tour and European Tour money lists the past two years, no player has won both the FedExCup and Race to Dubai in the same season. First, Stenson will take a well-deserved month off.
“This month is going to be great, and then I got a very busy schedule,” he said. “I think I’m playing seven tournaments in eight weeks starting from the 19th of October or the week after that. So I definitely need this rest and try and get everything sorted and organized and then start up full for the back end of the year.”
The young-and-fearless Jordan Spieth gave Stenson the biggest run for his money on Sunday, rolling in four birdies in a row from nos. 13-16, before a plugged lie in the greenside bunker on no. 17 led to a bogey. Spieth watched a TV monitor nervously as Stenson played the penultimate hole. Stenson was in the fairway bunker and hit an 8-iron to about 15 feet.
“Wow, what a golf shot there,” said Spieth, reacting to Stenson’s approach. “That just won him $11 million.”
Spieth stood up (and almost seemed relieved) and resumed his media duties.
“You just look the top of the leaderboard and still realize that you’re four back,” said Spieth when asked about his birdie run and controlling his emotions. “He dropped to 12. I thought he was at 13. I really wasn’t looking at the boards. I figured he was up there a ways. He still had 15 to play. So that’s an automatic birdie for him if he hits the fairway.
“So I knew that I probably needed to birdie the last three holes after birdieing 14, 15 or 13, 14, 15. So did what I could there, and unfortunately that shot happened on 17. But all in all, just to keep it going, I was just looking up and seeing that I needed more instead of being satisfied with what had happened.”
Spieth finished T2nd at the Tour Championship and 7th in the FEC standings, the best by a rookie in the history of the event.
The 20-year-old winner of the John Deere Classic will make his Presidents Cup debut October 3-6th at Muirfield Village in Ohio.
“I won’t stop until the Presidents Cup,” said Spieth, when asked if he had stopped to reflect on his accomplishments this year. “There’s no need to let everything sink in. I’ve got to stay focused.
“That’s what I’ve been saying the last few weeks. Start letting anything sink in about the year, it’s maybe not as intense about the next tournament. This next one’s the most important one in my life, and I’m very, very excited to be joining Team USA.”
Steve Stricker finished in a tie for second with Spieth and third in the FEC standings. Not bad for a part-timer.
“It’s been a great year,” said Stricker. “I had a lot of fun this year. I played probably the best golf of my life really, or the most consistent all year long on Tour this year, more than any other year probably.
“I wasn’t sure how this year was going to work out really at the start of it all back in December, but the more the year went on, the more I got comfortable with what I was doing, the more it felt right. So I’m very excited the way I played and the way I hung in there.
“Yeah, it was a lot of fun. Both home and on the road, it was a lot of fun this year.”
Stricker also made the Presidents Cup team on his own merit.
“It didn’t leave a very good taste in my mouth after last year’s Ryder Cup,” he said. “I surely would like to be a part of another Ryder Cup team. That’s next year.
“This year I was you know, you always want to be a part of those teams. Once you’ve been on one, you feel that energy and the emotion that you get from those teams, and you want to be a part of that. I don’t know what it had to do with my play this year. I really had nothing to prove. I wasn’t going to try to go out of my way to try to make the Presidents Cup team. I wasn’t going to play extra events or anything like that.
“But when it came down to it towards the end, I surely wanted to make that team, and I did want to make it on my own merit. I didn’t want to be a pick. So looking forward to a few weeks when we go to Columbus and looking forward to being part of the team again and hopefully, play well and have a good time, and we can win the Presidents Cup.
“So it’s important. You want to be part of those teams, but I wasn’t going to go out of my way this year to try to make it.”
Keegan Bradley celebrated holing out from the fairway for eagle by “Dufnering.” Bradley and Jason Dufner were paired together in the final round.
“I’ve wanted to do it all year,” said Bradley, who shot three-under 67 to place T12. “I thought, if I get the chance to do it, I’m going to do it. I didn’t expect to make that shot. I told Duff, I don’t care what happens. It was the highlight of the year for me.”
Turns out Bradley and Dufner had a side bet for the year on hole-outs.
“Coming into the day, he was one up,” said Dufner. “And then he holes out there on 7, and that was pretty much it. It was hard for me to hole out today because I didn’t miss any greens.”
Added Bradley: “He was saying he was going to hole a shot out. He was walking up the first hole saying he was going to hole out and tie me, but he didn’t. He hit it too good to chip in. He was right. So that was disappointing. But it was a fun day.”
Dustin Johnson, who was paired in the final group with Stenson, rolled in four birdies on the back nine to climb his way back up the leaderboard after his even-par effort on the front nine. Then, unfortunately, he triple-bogeyed no. 17. However, he had many supporters and family following him at East Lake, including his fiancee Paulina Gretzky. I complimented her on the large rock on her finger and asked to take a picture. “Make sure it’s straight!” she said, as she adjusted the ring.
Finally, Tiger Woods had a moment with his cubs.
(AP Photo/David Goldman)