Now that the official PGA TOUR season has concluded with a resounding competitive crescendo at East Lake Golf Club, all that remains on the 2013 calendar is the prospect of a U.S. vs. International team competition that may, for sheer entertainment, finally have found the stage and the star power to rival the Ryder Cup.
We’ll see soon enough whether it’s asking too much for the Presidents Cup to come of age in just its 10th playing. But more on that later.
For now, consider what transpired at the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola this past weekend. The wire-to-wire win by Henrik Stenson of Sweden was simply magnificent, completing a resurgence that had been a long time coming, dominating the TOUR Championship for his second victory in the FedExCup Playoffs after going without a win in the U.S. since the 2009 PLAYERS Championship.
Shortly after victory, Stenson lost an unspecified amount of his career earnings, estimated at multiple millions, in the 2009 collapse of Stanford Financial Group. Allen Stanford, the founder of the company, was convicted of operating a massive $7 billion Ponzi scheme and is serving a 110-year sentence at a Federal prison. The financial losses hit Stenson hard, and predictably his game suffered.
His comeback reads like fiction: after losing almost everything, dipping to No. 230 in the World Golf Rankings in 2012, Stenson claws back at the age of 37, resurrects his considerable game and regains his fortune with the $1.44 million in earnings for the Deutsche Bank Championship, another $1.44 million for the TOUR Championship and a $10 million bonus for winning the FedExCup.
Storybook stuff. Surely, it exceeds Stenson's wildest imaginings to finish this season at No. 2 on the money list with $6.38 million (excluding the FedExCup bonus), No. 4 in the World Rankings, and to be poised to make a run at the Race to Dubai in a month in an effort to be the first to win both that and the FedExCup.
“This is obviously the highest of everything, to win the FedExCup and win the TOUR Championship and win the Deutsche Bank two weeks ago,” Stenson said. “It’s been unbelievable. Yeah, it’s kind of sinking in more and more. To come back, that’s what pays off, the hard work.
“It proves you should never give up. Your results will come at some point.”
Stenson’s run-up to the FedExCup Playoffs – starting all the way back in March at the Shell Houston Open when he finished T2 to get into the top 50 and the Masters, followed by his T5 at THE PLAYERS, T3 at the Scottish Open, solo second at the Open Championship, T2 at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, solo third at the PGA Championship – was as good as it gets without winning.
And his subsequent run through the FedExCup Playoffs created just the type of upset victory imagined by the architects of the ambitious four-event, season-ending system that launched in 2007. After years of refining, tweaking and fine-tuning, it all fell into place.
Twenty-six of the 30 players in the TOUR Championship were in the top 50 in the official World Golf Rankings. The field included 24 of the top 25 on the TOUR money list. The No. 1 seed in the FedExCup Playoffs was the No. 1 player in the world, Tiger Woods, who dominated regular-season play with five wins – three more than any fellow competitor. All four major championship winners were there.
Woods carried a big points advantage into the FedExCup Playoffs, finished T2 at The Barclays and then relinquished the No. 1 spot to Stenson after cooling off with a T65 at the Deutsche Bank Championship but regained it after a T11 at the BMW Championship and was No. 1 going into the TOUR Championship. There he again ran into Stenson, whose resurgent game had peaked at precisely the right point.
At the end of the week, Stenson’s overwhelming consistent ball-striking prowess had put him at the pinnacle. He hit 218 of 288 greens for the FedExCup Playoffs – a stunning 76 percent.
Although never happy to lose, Woods was OK overall with his five-win season – which should be more than enough for him to win his 11th Player of the Year award – and with Stenson winning the season-ending jackpot.
“He’s played incredible,” Woods said. “From basically the British Open on, he’s put it together, and he’s played so consistently, while at a high level. He’s hit it great, made his share of putts, but he’s just been so consistent day in and day out. It’s good to see.
“He’s a good guy. We all like him. It’s good to see.”
There is still some very good stuff yet to see this year. There’s an almost palpable sense of purpose among the participants in the upcoming Presidents Cup. Woods will be a big part of the 12-man U.S. team that will take a 7-1-1 record into Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, for the Oct. 3 start of the biennial competition against an International squad that – on paper, at least – appears to be an underdog.
For starters, all the members of the U.S. team were in the field at the TOUR Championship, where the sensational 20-year-old rookie Jordan Spieth tied for second with fellow team member Steve Stricker. Spieth, who with veteran Webb Simpson was one of two Captain’s picks to round out the U.S. squad, is a shoe-in to be named Rookie of the Year later this season after his outstanding year that included a victory and three runner-up finishes.
Phil Mickelson, who has played in every Presidents Cup since its 1994 inception and whose 23 career points are the most of any player in history, has given Spieth a pretty resounding endorsement.
“Not only is he a great player but he’s got a great demeanor,” Mickelson said of Spieth last week. “He is very easy to be around and very likeable. That adds a lot to the team room and adds a lot to him as a partner for whoever plays with him at the Presidents Cup.”
Spieth is one of four first-time Presidents Cup players on the U.S. team. The International team has seven rookies, and will look for leadership to Hall of Famer Ernie Els as well as Masters champion Adam Scott. Scott, the first Australian to win the Masters, had some confident words of encouragement for his teammates during a Presidents Cup video that aired on Sunday.
“This is our week,” he said, looking into the camera much the way he did when addressing his Aussie mates, Jason Day and Mark Leishman on the night before his Masters win when all three were in contention. “The Internationals need to step up and win the thing and make it a real competition.
“I’m getting tired of getting killed out there. And this is a big year for us. It’s our time.”
Could be. Stay tuned. The year isn’t quite finished.
Larry Dorman is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.