ATLANTA At one point Saturday, before the hard stuff arrived around lunchtime at East Lake Golf Club, Henrik Stenson led the Tour Championship by nine strokes and the race for the $10million FedEx Cup bonus by just as much.
By the time Stenson finished, his shirt, cap and just about everything else drenched by a soaking rain, his lead was down to four strokes over Dustin Johnson. The margin of Stenson’s lead at least hints at the possibility of Sunday afternoon drama, though based on the way the Swede has played since July, don’t count on it.
Stenson bogeyed three of his last five holes Saturday, but those hiccups were largely rain-induced. With a better forecast for Sunday, the likely question is whether anyone can chase down Stenson on a course that is demanding but not frightening.
It’s not a course where big numbers lurk (Tiger Woods’ back nine Friday is the exception) and neither is it a place where someone is likely to shoot something gaudy like 63, though the rain-softened layout will be more vulnerable.
The look going into the final round might be very different had Adam Scott, who started in second place, not begun feeling badly Friday night and was so under the-soon-to-be-dismal weather on Saturday that he required a pre-round IV just to play the third round. Scott’s third-round 74 wrecked his chance to win and effectively locked up the player of the year award for Tiger Woods, who is ahead of just three players in the 30-man field.
“The club feels like it weighs 60 pounds,” Scott said when he finally got out of the Saturday afternoon rain.
It must feel like a magic wand to Stenson.
Since July, no one has been better. Had Stenson been able to win at the British Open , the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational or the PGA Championship (he finished second, tied for second and third), he might be player of the year. As it is, he’s back among the game’s elite, and to watch him over the past couple of months is to see a player juiced with confidence.
Stenson ’fessed up to a temper tantrum on Monday after the final round of the BMW Championship, where he broke his driver in a locker-room fit that left one of Conway Farms’ wooden lockers in need of rebuilding. Having played a heavy schedule, Stenson had imagined a Monday off at home in Orlando, lounging on his couch but instead had to finish another rain-delayed event.
Evidently, he got it out of his system.
Steve Stricker, who had planned to be elk hunting with his buddies this weekend before deciding he was close enough to winning the FedEx Cup that he couldn’t pass up the chance, said he isn’t surprised to see Stenson leading. Stricker’s surprise is that no one has put up a better fight.
“It seems like a lot of lackluster play,” Stricker said. “I think guys are flat. It seems like a lot of guys are tired.”
That’s been a theme this week.
Tiger blamed his Friday collapse – he played the last five holes 6 over par after playing the first 13 holes 5 under – on fatigue, an almost-shocking revelation from a guy who prides himself on his fitness. Keegan Bradley said he’s tired. Nick Watney said he’s tired.
No one is suggesting professional golf is as tough as doing road work eight hours a day, but since the British Open in mid-July, it’s been a grind. This is the seventh big event in the last nine.
Next year, the schedule becomes even more compact because the Ryder Cup will be played in Scotland in late September. The four playoff events will be played over four straight weeks. This year, there was a week off between the second and third playoff events.
Don’t be surprised when some top players take a week off in the playoffs next year.
“I think we’re going to see that happen,” Stricker said.
The Presidents Cup matches are two weeks away, but the PGA Tour season will end Sunday in Atlanta. It seems likely to end with Stenson holding two trophies at the same time.
Ron Green Jr. is senior writer for Global Golf Post (www.globalgolfpost.com) and a contributor to the Observer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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