By John Strege
Henrik Stenson's legacy for a time seemed destined to be tied to photographer Kyle Auclair's shot seen 'round the world, Stenson in his skivvies hitting from the mud at Doral in 2009. He in his skivvies might have been an apt metaphor for what he was left with in the wake of losing a fortune of indeterminate size in a notorious Ponzi scheme.
Stenson, a 37-year-old Swede, won't erase either the surrender of his modesty or his money from his biography, but they will diminish with his success in 2013 that culminated with victories in the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup on Sunday at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
And, no, it isn't about the money, not entirely, notwithstanding a payoff of $11.44 million, on top of the nearly $5 million he already had earned on the PGA Tour this year.
His play this year has helped restore his standing in golf's hierarchy -- not simply a top-10 player occasionally, but consistently. He has spent more than 100 weeks in the top 10 in his career, but has had to overcome two slumps, the latest that saw him drop to 230th in the World Ranking, where he stood early in 2012 before beginning his long trek toward a return to relevance and prominence.
His best golf has been surfacing against the strongest fields, too, hinting at his rectifying the single void on his resume, a victory in a major championship. Stenson won two of the four FedEx Cup playoff events. He also tied for fifth in the Players Championship, finished second in the British Open, tied for second in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and was third in the PGA Championship.
His latest victory was as free of stress as possible with $11.44 million at stake. He opened the Tour Championship with a 64 that gave him a one-stroke lead that he expanded to four following a second-round 66. He led by as many as nine in the third round, took a four-stroke lead into the final round, and efficiently withstood challenges from 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and Steve Stricker.
"Those two huge slumps he had, they can either destroy you or make you stronger," NBC's Johnny Miller said. "And I think he's one of the rare ones that has become stronger over the adversities he's had to overcome."
To what degree money became an issue after his losses in the Stanford Financial scandal are not known. What we do know is that he kept his pants on this week, its pockets are now flush with cash, and he again ranks with the best players in the world.
"Life is ups and downs -- stock market, golf," he said recently. "Everything kind of goes in cycles. I think when you're not getting what you want and you have to work hard for it and then you get the reward, it's going to feel better than if you get it all the time, I guess. But it's life in general. It's going to be highs, it's going to be lows, and we move on."