Stenson Proves to be the Hero as he Ends Drought
WELL, nobody saw that coming. Sweden’s Henrik Stenson ended a two-year title drought when he shot a final round of 66 to win the Hero World Challenge in The Bahamas by a shot from Spain’s Jon Rahm. It was something of a blow for tournament host Tiger Woods, who had 11 members of his US Presidents Cup team in the field and was hoping that one of them would finish on top of the pile ahead of their trip down to Melbourne for their match against Ernie Els’ International dream later this week.
Stenson hit an eagle on the 15th on his way to a 66 and a total of 18 under par to edge out defending champion Rahm. The leading American was Patrick Reed in third, who finished two ahead of Woods, with England's Justin Rose finished joint fifth.
"I found good momentum and sometimes it's just keep on working hard and grinding it out," Stenson said. "Obviously the shot of the day was that five wood to a couple of inches on 15, so I was very pleased about that.” Former Open champion Stenson, 43, had not won a PGA event since capturing the Wyndham Championship in August 2017.
Rahm secured second place with an impressive on the back nine, hitting birdies at the 14th and 16th and an eagle on the 15th. Overnight leader Gary Woodland, 35, slipped to joint seventh after a poor one-over-par 73 in his final round. Tournament host Woods, 43, shot a final-round three-under-par 69 but Reed, 29, finished ahead of him on 16 under, despite a two-shot penalty in the third round for flattening the sand in a bunker with two practice swings. Rose shared fifth with Justin Thomas.
Woods said of Stenson, “He completely lost his game there for a while and couldn’t hit it on the map. The way that Henrik has fought his way back, the countless hours he’s hit golf balls to figure it out – there aren’t a lot of guys who lose their golf swing and come back.”
Stenson’s ball-striking was solid but he made plenty of mistakes in the final round, only to be saved by his putter. Unlikely pars on the 11th and 14th kept him in contention, and a long two-putt on the 18th secured the win.
The Swede admitted that his season has been a struggle. He finished 90th in the FedEx Cup. “I haven’t played to more than 75% of my capacity in the last couple years and this has been a pretty average year,” he said. “It’s mental, it’s technical— does the chicken or the egg come first? The first five times you’re looking for a provisional when you hit it into the forest or the hazards or out of bounds or whatever, you’re not thinking too much about it. But you do that enough, and you stand there and you’re not looking down the fairway anymore. You’re looking at what’s over there and what’s over there, and now it’s a problem.”
After a T44 at the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Championship two weeks ago, Stenson decamped for the driving range with his coach, Pete Cowen, and eventually it began to click once again.
Matt Jones got up and down at the last to beat Louis Oosthuizen by a shot and win the Australian Open in Sydney for the second time. And afterwards he admitted that he was still pinching himself when he looked at the names of some of the other players to have won it.
“It’s a great honour to be able to put my name on that trophy with all those champions and there are multiple major champions on there,” Jones said. “To be on the trophy with Jack [Nicklaus] and Gary [Player] and Greg [Norman] and Adam [Scott], Rory [McIlroy], Jordan [Spieth]. To be able to do it twice is very special and something that I’ll be able to look back on later in life and be very proud of.”
Jones seemed to be cruising towards victory but then Oosthuizen eagled the last hole to pile the pressure on. Champion in 2015 at The Australian Golf Club, where he’s been a member since he was 15, Jones finished at 15-under-par for the tournament after closing with a 69.
Oosthuizen cut the lead to one with that eagle at the 18th and Jones found a bunker from the tee at the par five. He had a poor lie and was unable to find the fairway with his second and then left his approach short of the green. With the pressure really on, Jones chipped to five feet and holed the putt for victory to become the 19th multiple winner of the tournament — and the first since American Jordan Spieth three years ago. Unlike 2015, when he had to hold on like grim death in the face of challenges from Spieth and Scott after racking up double and triple bogeys on a nervy front nine, Jones wasn’t threatened this time until the death.
His overnight three-stroke lead was never trimmed to anything less than two shots until he walked to the 18th. He had one hand on the Stonehaven Cup after extending his advantage to four shots after the front nine. After successive birdies on the 13th and 14th holes, Jones could afford a bogey on 15 and still edge out Oosthuizen, who closed with a 66 to finish outright second. Victory also earned Jones a place in the field for The Open Championship next year at Royal St George’s and he was thrilled. “I’ve played in maybe five British Opens and it’s the one major I would most like to win. To be able to do that and plan a schedule around that, will be fantastic,” Jones said.
There are huge bush fires raging in the Sydney area and many of the players were affected by smoke, with New Zealand’s Ryan Chisnall, who suffers from asthma, resorting to wearing a face mask. During the week, Sydney’s air quality registered on a par with Beijing as smoke blew in from fires that have raged for more than a month.
"It feels like I should shove a bit of salt water up my nose or something," said Adam Scott. "Obviously not the conditions we want to be playing in. [The smoke] got pretty thick for a while," he added.
Paul Casey put a different perspective on things. "I must admit my eyes are stinging but you know I honestly feel for the people [nearer the fires], because we're feeling it down here 100 [miles] away. I'm not going to complain because there's people in a way worse position than me."
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