Henrik Stenson, the master of the comeback, wins for the first time in more than two years

December 07, 2019
Hero World Challenge - Final Round

Mike Ehrmann

NEW PROVIDENCE, Bahamas — Everybody likes a good comeback story. And Henrik Stenson is a man of comebacks, all shapes and sizes.

There was the time he lost his game, in 2001, when he developed the full-swing yips. It was so bad that he walked off the course during the second round of the Smurfit European Open that year because he was afraid he was going to hit someone, with things getting even worse before they eventually got better.

Then, in 2009, he lost more than $8 million after being a victim in the Ponzi scheme perpetrated by financier Allen Stanford. Two years later, Stenson fell into another deep slump as a result, missing 17 cuts in 48 starts between 2010 and ’11 and eventually plummeting outside the top 200 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Stanford went to prison, and in 2013 Stenson won the FedEx Cup and the $10 million bonus that went with it.

Even his clubs weren’t immune. Earlier this year, the 43-year-old Swede said goodbye to his trusty Callaway Diablo Octane Tour 3-wood, a club he wielded marvelously since 2011 and one that propelled him to eight wins, including the 2016 Open Championship, and at one point No. 2 in the world. Stenson said it was time to get something new that technology had moved on, so in Houston he put Callaway’s Epic Flash Sub Zero 3-wood in his bag.

This time it was his 5-wood that came in handy, though, in yet another comeback.

Trailing leader Jon Rahm by a stroke as he played the par-5 15th at Albany in the final round of the Hero World Challenge on Saturday, Stenson ripped his second shot from 259 yards, the ball landing on the front of the green and rolling to within a few inches of the cup. He tapped in for eagle to take a one-stroke lead and never looked back.

Stenson shot six-under 66 for a one-stroke victory over Rahm. It was his first title since the 2017 Wyndham Championship more than 24 months ago, a span of 50 worldwide starts.

“It feels great,” Stenson said. “I've been close a couple of times.”

Or a half-dozen times. In his seven starts at the Hero, Stenson has finished in the top five six times. Two of those were runner-up finishes, in 2014 and 2016.

This one was the sweetest finish, though, beginning with the fact that he needed an exemption from tournament host Tiger Woods to get into the field.

Even Woods, who briefly held the lead early in the final round on Sunday, was impressed by all Stenson has been through.

“He completely lost his game there for a while and couldn't hit it on the map, then comes back, works all the way back to being a major champion and won tournaments all around the world,” said Woods, who knows something about comebacks.“We all know he's one of the best ball-strikers there is out here, it's just how well he putts, and this week he definitely putted well.”

Still, it was a victory that Stenson didn’t necessarily see coming.

Two weeks ago, he tied for a disappointing 44th in Dubai. Afterward, he spent a few hours on the range with his swing coach Pete Cowen. He carried some of that work to Albany.

“Sometimes, just keep on working hard and grinding it out,” Stenson said. “Confidence can still be a little higher, but I'm really happy with the way I hung in there.”

While Stenson hung in, everyone else around him on Saturday faltered, in one way or another.

Woods dropped back when his chip on the 14th hole didn’t make it up the slope and he had to scramble for bogey. Justin Thomas had a pair of 10-foot birdie putts burn the edge.

Then there was Rahm. Playing his final tournament before getting married in Spain next week and in control after a birdie-eagle-birdie run to take the lead on 16 before Rahm’s 5-wood, he couldn’t get any closer. He finished with a pair of pars to shoot 66.

And Stenson?

“I can compete with the best,” he said. “and I guess I showed that.”