Sep
20
2013
Friday’s Top Five at the 2013 Tour Championship: Stenson leads by 4; Tiger sizzles, then fizzles
By Stephanie Wei under FedEx Cup
Nice playing, man

Nice playing, dude

Henrik Stenson shot a solid four-under 66 to take a commanding four-shot lead at the Tour Championship heading into the weekend in the FedExCup finale. The 37-year-old Swede only carried 13 clubs in his bag on Friday. And no, he didn’t break his 4-wood on purpose, like he did with his driver on Monday at the BMW Championship.

While he was warming up on the range, Stenson discovered the face of his 4-wood had caved in, which also made it a non-conforming club — and good thing he left it in his locker because otherwise he would’ve gotten a two-shot penalty or even faced disqualification. 

“You’re not going to believe me anyway after last week that the 4-wood broke due to natural causes,” said Stenson. “I was warming up, and my 4-wood started to sound a little funny on the range there.  I looked at the face on the two shots, and there was a funny sound, and the face had caved in on the top groove.  That’s the problem when you hit it too hard, right?”

Indeed. Stenson does hit the crap out of the ball. In the case he had the driver yips — which he actually did have a few years ago during his slump — he doesn’t need to hit driver and usually doesn’t pull it that often because his 3-wood goes longer than the average player’s driver.

Q.  No.  How many drivers did you hit? 

HENRIK STENSON:  Drivers, yesterday I hit two on 9 and 15, and today it was probably only on 9.

Q.  What’s the difference distancewise between your driver and your 3 wood?

HENRIK STENSON:  About 20 yards, something like that.

Q.  There’s a feeling out there that you smashed that 3 wood  excuse me, hit it so far. 

HENRIK STENSON:  No, I like smash it.

Q.  You’re not a guy that hits driver a lot.  Are you just as comfortable hitting driver as you would 3 wood? 

HENRIK STENSON:  I think for me, when I hit the ball well, I’m normally fairly, you know, like not much turn to it, pretty straight balling, and a lot of times after 300 yards  you have the same problem, I know.  After 300 yards, a lot of fairways are kind of turning a little bit.  So certain golf courses, certain holes, it definitely feels like you need to thread it in a little bit more if I’m going with driver.

With a 3 wood, I can take a line, and it’s less of a problem running out.  So that normally  and I can afford that since I got probably another 10, 15 yards in my 3 wood and getting up to probably the average drive on tour with my 3 wood.

I mean, when I won at Sawgrass in ’09, I think I had five drives the whole week on that golf course and four of them were on 11 and one on 5 or something.  So certain golf courses, I really don’t need to hit that many drives.

Stenson didn’t have his second fairway wood, but it turned out alright. He hit some nice 3-woods and in the first round he missed a fairway with his 4-wood, so perhaps it was all meant to be.

“I played with 13 clubs, and I guess the scare you were mentioning there is that, if you carry a nonconforming club that’s broken before you play, you will get a two-shot penalty, and if you use it during the round, you’re disqualified,” he said.  “So that’s obviously not a good thing. You asked me how well I knew the rules the other day.  I gave myself 7 out of 10, didn’t I?  I guess this was in the other 30 percent then.

“I wouldn’t have said I was 100 percent sure that I would have gotten a two-shot penalty if I would have carried the club, just had it in my bag and not used it.  But that was obviously the case.  Good thing that we put it in the locker before we teed off, and I’m going to see if I can find another head, a similar one or a different one to pull that shaft and put in a different fairway wood for tomorrow.”

As you may recall, Charles Howell III found out the hard way last month in Greensboro. 

Golf Channel’s telecast showed Stenson examining the club with Steve Stricker on the range, and it was actually one of those infamous “call-ins” that saved Stenson from a penalty or DQ. Who are these callers? I can’t say for sure, but I’m willing to put down a few hundred bucks that it was a fellow rules official who was not on-site this week.

What’s Stenson’s stance on armchair rules officials?

“Well, we debated that the other day in the press conference,” he said. “I don’t have a great answer.  The only thing I would say, like I said then, that some players is probably more in the limelight of that happening, but on the other hand, they haven’t lost a ball in the last ten years either.  So it’s kind of the rough with the smooth in that sense.

“It’s always tricky.  It could be some funny situations, but it is what it is, and it’s not for me to decide.”

Good point on those players not losing a ball, either. (Well, except that weird incident with Tiger Woods on no. 5 at Quail Hollow last year.)

Since the Scottish Open, Stenson has been one of the hottest — if not, THE hottest — and most consistent players in the world. His last 7 starts: Scottish Open T3, the Open Championship 2, WGC-Bridgestone T2, PGA Championship 3, The Barclays T43, The Deutsche Bank Championship 1, BMW Championship T33.

Not too shabby. Now, compare his ballstriking in those events to this week, which has been the best?

“It possibly might have felt a little bit better on one or two occasions, but given the results or how close I hit it yesterday and how close I’ve hit a few shots today is probably the  you know, how do I wrap this up?  Probably the closest to the hole I’ve hit so many of the good shots this week,” said Stenson.

“But I think I might have felt a little bit more confident maybe at Deutsche Bank at times.  But I was hitting a lot of good iron shots there as well. Like I said, I didn’t feel like I drove the ball fantastic yesterday, but I still managed to get out of trouble when I was in trouble, and I thought I hit it better off the tee today than I did yesterday.

“It’s hard to kind of say which week was absolutely the best.  Still got two more days.  I’ll try and answer you better on Sunday.”

Stenson’s closest contenders are Adam Scott (six-under) and Jordan Spieth (five-under).

I’ll leave you with more highlights from Stenson’s presser before we move on to other players…

What’s the least amount of clubs you finished a round with? 

HENRIK STENSON:  I don’t think we should go there.

Q.  Have you ever started  played a round with less than 14? 

HENRIK STENSON:  Okay, now I’m with you.  I thought we were heading somewhere else with this.

Q.  We can. 

HENRIK STENSON:  No, we don’t need to.  I’m actually not sure if I’ve  no, I’ve had a couple break for different reasons, but I never  I don’t think I’ve ever started a round with 13, not that I can remember.  It might have happened.

But in general, I try to keep it at 14.  Most rounds I manage to finish with 14 as well.

*****

*Adam Scott: Scott tried his best to keep up with Stenson on Friday, but a putt here or there was the difference.

“I’m fairly pleased,” said Scott, who shot one-under 69 in the second round. “I didn’t play my best golf out there today.  A few errant tee shots.  Not that I got in a lot of trouble, but when you’re out of position, it’s really hard to have a good score around here.

“I scrambled well on a few holes, and I didn’t get much to go down when I had opportunities.  It was just one of those days, and at least it’s only one guy four in front.  So four is not so many at this point.”

That’s true — four isn’t that many with 36 holes left to play (though they’ll be battling thunderstorms on Saturday, which is why the tee times have been moved up). Plus, today was an off-day for Scott and to come out with a 69 isn’t the worst thing that could have happened.

“I think I’m confident enough in my own striking to not be intimidated by Henrik’s good ball striking,” said the Masters champ.

So, he got the “bad” round out of the way and odds are Stenson will have a similar day, where he won’t be as perfect as he has been thus far.

“Look, I’m putting good,” said Scott.  “These greens can be tricky to read because of the grain.  It was just one of those days where it was slightly off with the read obviously.  I felt like I hit a lot of good putts, and they didn’t go in.

“But I made the ones you’re supposed to make, which shows me that I’m putting well.  And hopefully, I get in that zone tomorrow where I’m picking the right line.”

*****

*Jordan Spieth: I can’t get enough of this kid nor can I get over how mature he is — and I think I speak for everyone who has played with or interacted with the 20-year-old phenom. Spieth fired a three-under 67 to stay in the mix at five-under at the halfway mark. Though he trails Stenson by five, he’s still very much in the tournament.

“Today was a day where I felt like I shot as low as I could have shot, which is kind of a rare case this year with me,” said Spieth, who won the John Deere Classic (when he was still 19).

“My ball striking, I’ve given myself a lot of opportunities in the past couple of months, and my good tournaments were the tournaments where I felt comfortable putting.  Today, the ball striking was a little off, but I must have had probably 24, 25 putts.  It wasn’t that many. I felt really good over the ball.  Yeah, I’m excited where I’m at.  Henrik’s obviously tearing it up, so we have some work to do.”

Other than the top five in the FEC standings — Tiger, Stenson, Scott, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar — who CONTROL THEIR OWN DESTINY heading into the Tour Championship, Spieth might be the only guy in the field who is aware of all the scenarios in order for him to win the FedExCup and the barrel of $10 million.

“I think from this point with Henrik first and Adam tied for second, it’s kind of not the scenario that would be perfect for me,” said Spieth. “Yeah, I don’t expect to win the FedExCup at this point, but I can make a run at the TOUR Championship.”

The 20-year-old Spieth has played in 23 PGA Tour events this season (and a few Web.com Tour ones) — much more than some guys in the field, like Stricker, Scott and Woods — and he might have even made more starts if he had any kind of status at the beginning of the year! Remember, Spieth played on sponsor’s invites to kick off 2013 and then secured enough top 10 finishes for more starts, then special temporary status and eventually, full status as a rookie.

Unlike some guys, Spieth’s age and momentum is likely why he’s still going at full speed.

“I think it might be an advantage,” said Spieth, referring to his youth. “All in all, I mean, we’re going to get some different conditions these next couple of days, and I don’t think that  I don’t think it necessarily has much of an impact, but if guys are really tired from playing more golf than normal, then, yeah, maybe it’s an advantage because I don’t feel really tired out there.

“I was trying to have my caddie keep up with me today up the hills.  It was pretty hot.  It was.  But it’s still a break from the Texas weather.”

But, he did have that stretch where he did get worn down last month and skipped Firestone.

“I played Greensboro  yeah, missed a cut at the PGA,” he said. “Went home a few days.  Went into Greensboro late. I played that course before, and I like those greens, Bermuda, and it was a good course for me and a good opportunity to make a run.

“I really went into it with a relaxed mindset of trying to win.  Never really felt any adrenaline or pressure like maybe in a Major the week before where I was maybe putting too much pressure on myself.

“But at the time of Firestone, it was just a really tough stretch for me.  It was after the John Deere and the British, and I had not had more than a week off since January.  I just kind of needed  I really did feel tired there and really needed to rest up.  I thought I was going to have really good prep for the PGA having that extra week. It didn’t turn out that way, but it was good prep for the three weeks to follow that.”

Spieth lost in a playoff to Patrick Reed at Greensboro.

*****

Phil Mickelson played better on Friday, posting a three-under 67 to follow his first-round 71. The 43-year-old Open Champion Golfer of the Year found his groove on the back nine and fired off three birdies. He also feels like he’s swinging the club and stroking the putter the best he has since he won the Open.

“I made a couple putts on the back nine of a decent length,” said Mickelson. “25, 30 footer on the 12th hole and then probably a 50-footer on the following. I let a number of shots go on the first 27 holes.  I really hadn’t putted well on the first 27, and then it clicked right back in.  Just a slight setup adjustment, and I started to feel really good with it.

“Heading into tomorrow, since the British Open, this is the best I’ve felt with my golf swing, the best I’ve felt with a putter.  I’m not sure if I put myself too far back after the 27 holes I played poorly, but I should play well this weekend.”

*****

Tiger Woods was five-under through 13 holes on Friday and then “ran out of gas,” shooting six-over in the last five holes to finish with a one-over 71.

Q.  What would you say about how you are feeling at this point in the season?

TIGER WOODS:  I’m tired.

Q.  Physically? 

TIGER WOODS:  Yeah, definitely.

Q.  Is the back okay, everything else? 

TIGER WOODS:  It’s been just a long, long grind.

Q.  I know there’s no finish line in this sport, but in terms of the Presidents Cup being one of the finish lines, have you ever looked forward to that as much as you have right now? 

TIGER WOODS:  Duff and I were talking about it.  We’re all looking forward to that week off.  Everyone out here has got some knickknack injuries, and guys are taped up and banged up a little bit.

So we’re all looking forward to  well, the American guys and the international guys are looking forward to that week off.  Some of the European guys, they’ve got their race to Dubai they’ve got to get ready for as well.

Woods isn’t a fan of the new wraparound schedule.

“The next two years are set in stone,” he said. “We got to  whatever it is, we’ve got to play it.  We’ve got two more rounds of stroke play before we get to our team format, and hopefully the next couple of days I can shoot some good rounds.

“Tomorrow doesn’t look very good that we’re going to finish tomorrow.  Hopefully, we don’t go into Monday.”

I’m with you, Tiger.

Woods also attributes his fatigue to being in contention often, especially at majors, like the Open Championship.

“You know, it  it is what it is, you know,” he said when asked if he’s ever felt this worn down. “We play a lot of golf from the British Open on, and I’ve  some of the  it helps that some of the years where I have gotten worn out is when I’ve been in contention a lot.  Four rounds being in contention  unfortunately, I’ve only had a couple of tournaments there where I’ve been right in the hunt at Barclays and ended up winning it at Firestone.”

Just a fact/stat: Tiger and Henrik are the same age (37), and Stenson has played in 25 tournaments worldwide, while Tiger has 17.

Asked about several of his miss off the tee on no. 17, Woods said: “My legs were just tired.  I didn’t rotate through the ball, and I turned it over.  Same thing I did over on  what was it, 14?  Same shot.”

I hear you, dude. We’ve all been there.

(AP Photo)