Coming into the week at the Hero World Challenge, there were few storylines getting less press than the championship hopes of Sweden’s Henrik Stenson.
Not that it was not justified. At 43, Stenson was the second-oldest player in the 18-man field, and coming off a pedestrian season, he needed a special exemption to gain a spot in the Bahamas-hosted event.
Instead, the dominant headlines were the play of extremely-popular tournament host Tiger Woods, the upcoming Presidents Cup, which features a heavily-favored American squad that happens to be captained by… Tiger Woods, and the championship defense of young, red-hot Spaniard Jon Rahm, who came into the week with three wins and nine top-7 finishes in his last 12 starts worldwide, and was just named the European Tour Player of the Year after his victory at last week’s DP World Tour Championship, which sealed up his triumph of the European Tour’s season-long Race to Dubai.
However, none of that mattered on Saturday at Albany, the host course, as Stenson overcame a one-shot 54-hole deficit by shooting a 6-under 66 and edging Rahm by a single stroke for the victory – his first anywhere since the 2017 season.
Despite being an unofficial event with a very-limited field, the tournament, which has brought tremendous amount of money and attention to the Tiger Woods Foundation, is still considered prestigious. Among the 18 players invited were eight of the top 12 in the Official World Golf Rankings. Even the lowest-ranked player, No. 44 Jordan Spieth, is a highly-regarded three-time major champion.
Coming into the final day, which was pushed back to accommodate the earlier start of next week’s anticipated team-play event at Royal Melbourne, Stenson was a stroke behind reigning U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, and a stroke ahead of Rahm. It did not take long for Stenson to surge into the lead. To illustrate just how much of a disaster Woodland’s front-nine was, consider this: he carded five birdies in a seven-hole span on the back nine, and STILL finished over par.
Stenson birdied the first hole to tie the lead, and then took the solo-lead when Woodland bogeyed the second. When Woodland went ahead to butcher the next few holes, Stenson was among five other players who would hold at least a share of the lead at some point. Tiger himself even held the solo-lead briefly, which, had it held, would have sent the sports world ablaze, even on college football conference championship Saturday, but it was not to be.
Stenson was just too good on the back nine, making one clutch shot and one clutch putt after another, and later pulling off the shot of the tournament: a pristine second-shot 5-wood on the par-5 15th hole that very nearly went in for albatross. The Swede was able to tap in for eagle and take the lead for good. After Rahm failed to birdie the 18th hole, Stenson two-putted for par, and the victory. He finished 19-under for the week.
After Rahm, the closest player to Stenson was Patrick Reed, a player who will likely garner significant attention at the Presidents Cup, as he always does in team events. Reed finished two strokes behind Stenson after his third 6-under 66 of the week, but hurt his chances with a third-round 74 that was derailed by a two-stroke penalty he received for improving his lie on a shot.
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Henrik Stenson -18 (-6)
2. Jon Rahm -17 (-6)
3. Patrick Reed -16 (-6)
4. Tiger Woods -14 (-3)
5. Justin Rose -13 (-7)
5. Justin Thomas -13 (-2)
7. Kevin Kisner -12 (-7)
7. Gary Woodland -12 (+1)
9. Rickie Fowler -10 (-4)
10. Tony Finau -7 (-7)
10. Xander Schauffele -7 (-4)
10. Webb Simpson -7 (-3)
13. Chez Reavie -5 (+1)
14. Matt Kuchar -4 (+1)
15. Bryson DeChambeau -3 (-4)
16. Jordan Spieth -2 (E)
17. Patrick Cantlay E (-1)
18. Bubba Watson +1 (+1)
How Henrik Stenson Won the Hero World Challenge
While few golfers in the world have experienced more up-and-downs in their careers than Stenson, when he is on – as he has been for most of the past decade, he is considered exceptionally steady. That trait was exhibited this week as Stenson was the only player in the field to shoot all four of his rounds in the 60s. He bogeyed just five holes the entire week, with just one of those coming on Sunday, which was more than cancelled out by five birdies and an eagle.
Stenson is coming off two consecutive seasons where he led the PGA Tour in strokes gained: approach-the-green, and again, his iron game was tremendous on Saturday. Perhaps even more impressive however, was his putter, as Stenson sunk two long clutch putts early on the back nine to keep himself into contention.
Stenson’s Winning Numbers
Fairways: 40/52, 76.9% (5th)
Greens: 50/72, 69.4% (4th)
Putts/GIR: 82/1.640 (7th)
Scoring: 2 Eagles, 19 Birdies (6th), 46 Pars, 5 Bogeys (2nd)
What It Means For Henrik Stenson
Ending a slump is always a tremendous confidence-booster, and this had been his longest winless streak since 2010-2011 when he saw his game plummet. His previous victory had been at the 2017 Wyndham Championship, which had been his first victory in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event since he put on an all-time great major performance at the 2016 Open Championship.
Stenson came into the week ranked 40th in the world rankings, and will jump to the 26th position. He has been as high as No. 2 (2014) in the past and was a regular top-10 for the past decade or so. Stenson has 21 professional victories in his career, with six of those coming on the PGA Tour.
Unlike a lot of players in the Hero field, Stenson will not be in Australia next week, as his European citizenship makes him ineligible for either team. He is planning to take the next four weeks off. He made numerous references to the Grizwolds when speaking of it.
Born: April 5, 1976 (43)
Weight: 190 lbs
Residence: Orlando, FL
Pro Wins: 21
Majors: 1 (2016 British)
Best World Ranking: No. 2 (2014)
Current World Rank: No. 26
Tiger Finally Gets One on JT
Tiger Woods has accomplished nearly everything that can be accomplished in a professional career, but one surprising thing he has not been able to conquer: Justin Thomas. Coming into the week, Tiger was 0-10-2 when paired with JT, a close friend of his, with both those ties coming into this event. Now, after Saturday in The Bahamas, Tiger is no longer winless in this regard.
Tiger got his week off to a mediocre start with an even-par 72, but propelled into contention with a great round 2 (66) and 3 (67), was just two strokes back of the lead heading into the final round. He got his Saturday off to an excellent start, and even held the solo-lead for a time, but could not keep the momentum going, playing his final seven holes in 1-over, with a bogey at the par-4 14th being especially harmful to his chances of winning the tournament he hosts for the sixth time, although that last one came in 2011.
Tiger shot a 3-under 69 to finish four strokes back of Stenson, in solo-fourth place. However, Thomas finished worse. Better Tiger’s round by one stroke heading into the final hole, the 26-year-old, who won in South Korea in October, sent his tee shot into the water and had to settle for a double bogey.
Thomas shot a 2-under 70 and finished in a share of fifth place. He still one-ups Tiger in the world rankings though, as he moved to No. 4, while Tiger jumped one spot to sixth this week.
Tony Finau proved the old adage that you cannot win a tournament on the first day, but you can sure lose it. Finau got his week off at Albany to a horrendous start, shooting a 7-over 79 that was three strokes worse than anyone else in the field shot in any round this week.
However, the 30-year-old Finau bounced back admirably with rounds of 68, 69, and then a field-low 7-under 65 on Saturday to reach 14-under for the week, good for a share of 10th place.
One of the two players to match Finau’s Saturday 65 was Kevin Kisner, birdied eight holes on the final day to shoot his only round in the 60s for the week and finish T7.
Kisner was considered one of the top candidates for a Presidents Cup captain’s pick, due to his past prowess in team events, and his demolishment of the field at the recent WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, but was unable to snag one of those spots, even when Brooks Koepka had to withdraw with a knee injury.
Carding one more birdie than Kisner and finishing one spot higher was Justin Rose, the third player to shoot that field-low 65 number on Saturday. The T5 finish should be excellent for the Brit’s confidence, as Rose finished his 2019 season very average after what could be a called a year-and-a-half long tear.
Gary Woodland had found his better form as of recently, after he had slumped following his breakthrough major victory at last year’s U.S. Open. However, that strong play came to a halt early on Saturday, as a bogey-double-bogey stretch for holes 2-4 sabotaged his championship chances after he had held the 54-hole lead.
Even with six birdies on the day, Woodland still shot a co-field low 1-over 73 and dropped to a share of 7th place.
One of those 73s came from Chez Reavie, who also shot that number in round 2, but was strong enough in the other two rounds to still shoot 5-under for the week. He finished in 13th place.
Jordan Spieth, looking for the previously elite form that has eluded him the past two seasons, finished his round poorly going from 3-under to even-par over the final three holes. Spieth shot an even-par 72 to finish 16th in the 18-man field.
“Let’s not get carried away, I’m only down to like 40th. It’s down, but it’s not disastrous. But yeah, I’ve been top 10 in the world for 5-6 years straight, so that’s where we want to be, and I feel like when I’m playing to my potential, I can certainly compete with the best, and I showed that once again. I’m pleased with how I finished the back nine here today.”
– Henrik Stenson