Henrik Stenson’s icy finish to win at Wyndham
In the final round of the 2017 Wyndham Championship, Henrik Stenson makes three late birdies in a row with Ollie Schniederjans pushing him all the way to salt away his sixth PGA TOUR victory—the most by any Swedish male player—at Sedgefield Country Club.
Welcome to the Monday Finish, where the scramble to get into the top 125 in time for the start of the FedExCup Playoffs was at least as compelling as the fight for the Sam Snead trophy.
Here are Five Observations
1. Stenson still burns to win.
It is part of cartooning lore that when Far Side creator Gary Larson was awakened for the second day of kindergarten, he looked up at his mother and said: “Again?”
A similar sort of question was put to Henrik Stenson, 41, after he’d lived up to his Ice Man tag at steamy Sedgefield with a cool two-putt from above the hole at the last. As the winner of the 2013 TOUR Championship and FedExCup, the 2016 Open Championship, and multiple Ryder Cups—among many other tournaments—has he ever wondered: What more do I have to do?
“So I won a lot and I’m old,” Stenson said, breaking up the room. “That’s basically what you’re saying. All right. I can agree with that, both of them. Still young at heart though, very much so.”
Turning more reflective, he added: “When you’ve done this for as long as I have, you kind of miss the kids and being at home at times, but this is what we dream about doing as kids and I love the competition, you know, being out there, feeling the nerves, and you want to hit the shots when they matter the most.”
In other words, motivation is not a problem.
“I’m certainly hungry to win golf tournaments,” Stenson said. “I showed that today. I want to try to win a couple more majors.”
2. Driving distance didn’t matter at Sedgefield. It was all about accuracy.
“Every time I hit it in the rough I struggled to get it on the green or near the hole,” said 2011 Wyndham winner Webb Simpson, who shot a final-round 67 to finish third.
Ryan Armour had some new shafts put in to allow him to swing easier and play the type of precision golf that is rewarded at Sedgefield, especially demands precision into the greens. The result: Armour shot 64 to finish T4 for his first top-10 on TOUR in more than 10 years.
Stenson said the Wyndham was the first of his 20 professional victories in which he didn’t put his driver in the bag all week, instead hitting fairway woods and long irons off the tees.
“It was a very good decision (laughter),” Stenson said. “I’m delighted. I don’t think my Epic Driver is delighted. Been standing in the shadows in my locker all week. He’s a little anxious to get out and start getting some air time I think next week already.”
3. The FedExCup trophy looms large.
Stenson needed another start on TOUR to hit his minimum, so playing the Wyndham made sense even though he’d missed the cut twice and WD’d with the flu in three trips to Greensboro.
But as a past FedExCup champion he also had something else on his mind, and that was boosting his FedExCup number (75) to position himself for a deep run through the playoffs.
“I almost reached the No. 1 spot in two different ways,” Stenson said. “I think I was positioned ninth in 2013 when it started, and in 2015 I think I was 43rd when it started.”
That a guy who has played in hundreds of tournaments and shot thousands of scores would recall his exact rankings speaks to the importance of post-season golf. Stenson’s latest unforgettable FedExCup numbers: He went from 75th to 23rd at the Wyndham. Bring on the playoffs.
4. Winning isn’t everything—the top 125 is.
The most dedicated sports fans appreciate the game on a deeper level, and in this case that meant watching the game within the game at the Wyndham.
The race for the top 125 was tense—and that’s putting it mildly.
“There’s a level of tension and stress in your body that’s on a different level when you’re in that position,” said Geoff Ogilvy (67, T16), who was one of the week’s big winners as he moved off the bubble at 125 to 116 and safely on to THE NORTHERN TRUST.
“It was the least enjoyable round of golf I’ve ever played in my life,” said Sam Saunders (69, T37), who began the week at 127 and dropped to 129. “You don’t know if you’re going to throw up or have a heart attack. It’s worse than trying to win a tournament, tenfold.”
J.J. Henry’s birdie putt on 18 just fell in the right edge of the cup, and he finished 125. Others who narrowly earned FedExCup Playoffs berths included Martin Flores (63, T7) and Rory Sabbatini (64, T4), who made an ace and a 58-foot birdie putt, respectively, at the 172-yard 16th hole. Harold Varner III (69, T10) did just enough to also advance, moving up 15 spots to 123rd.
Meanwhile, Zac Blair, who missed the 54-hole cut at the Wyndham, watched it all play out on TV as he finished 126th by 1.13 FedExCup points. Ouch.
5. The stakes were even higher than many realized.
With all the focus on getting into the top 125 and the FedExCup Playoffs, little attention was paid to getting into the top 200 and the four-tournament Web.com Tour Finals, starting with the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship, Aug. 31-Sept. 3.
Arjun Atwal, a past champion at the Wyndham, was hoping to move up from 225th but shot 69-72 and missed the cut. He still has plenty of game—he was in the mix through two rounds at the Quicken Loans National, where he got a sponsor exemption—but needs a place to play.
It was a similar story for Steven Bowditch broke a streak of 21 consecutive missed cuts, easily making the weekend rounds with scores of 68-66 at the Wyndham. He shot a third-round 73 and survived the 54-hole cut, as well, but his final-round 70 wasn’t enough as he finished T64 and moved from 237 to 231 in the FedExCup standings.
Asked if he was gratified to make the cut, Bowditch was blunt.
“I just lost my job,” he said. “There’s nothing gratifying about that.”