By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
NORTON, Mass. -- Over the last two months, no one on the planet has played better golf than Henrik Stenson.
It began with a runner-up at The Open Championship in July and culminated with a final-round 66 and a two-stroke win Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship for what was his fourth finish in the top three in his last five starts on the PGA TOUR.
With the victory, he not only won on the TOUR for the first time in four years but took over the top spot in the FedExCup standings from Tiger Woods.
Early on, however, it looked like Stenson might come up short again when he hit into a hazard on the second hole and made bogey.
That’s when he went into Stensonator mode, though, ripping off four birdies with robotic exactitude over his next five holes to seize control at TPC Boston.
“I’m really pleased with how I bounced back,” Stenson said of the bogey.
He just as easily could have been talking about his career.
Just two years into it, Stenson walked off the course after just nine holes of the 2001 European Open at The K Club with a horrific case of the driver yips.
“He had trouble hitting the world,” his coach Pete Cowen would tell Golf Digest five years later. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done with a student.”
Stenson climbed all the way back, reaching No. 5 in the world. But a decade later he found himself struggling again.
He muddled through a crummy season in 2011, going without a top 10 on TOUR for the first time in six years. He made nine of 15 cuts and finished in the top 25 just twice and by the start of 2012 had fallen outside the top 200 in the world.
Through it all, though, he never lost his sense of humor, and laughter is what helped light the path to the ultimate goal.
Take for example the time he and his wife Emma were staying at a ski hotel in Switzerland when Stenson thought it would be a good idea to play a joke on fellow pro Carl Pettersson, who was in the next room.
Stenson put on a sweatshirt with the hood drawn tight over his head, jumped from his balcony to Pettersson’s and yelled, “Give me all your money!”
Another time in the Canary Islands, Pettersson saw someone trying to steal a scooter from the front of the hotel, so he and his caddie threw golf balls at the offender to scare him off.
“That’s what my husband does,” said Emma, who greeted her husband after the victory along with the couple's two young children, Lisa and Karl. “There’s never a dull moment. You never know what’s going to happen.”
For a while on Monday that was true, too.
Sergio Garcia had started the final round with a two-stroke lead over his good friend Stenson. Only it was Garcia who would have the meltdown, making four bogeys over his first nine holes to fall out of contention and finish five strokes back.
“I just wasn't comfortable,” Garcia said. “I wasn't able to trust myself as I did the first few days.”
Stenson of course knows that feeling all too well.
“We've all been there,” he said. “He's been there before. I've been there. Everyone that's out here has been in that situation. It's part of the game.”
The funny moments along the way helped Stenson get through his own tribulations. His talent inside the ropes is what finished the job, though.
Whether it was at the 2006 Ryder Cup when he sank the clinching putt at the very place he’d walked away from years earlier, or on the final hole in 2007 in Dubai when he made birdie to beat Ernie Els by one and Tiger Woods by two, or in 2009 when he shot a Sunday 66 to win THE PLAYERS Championship, or this week at TPC Boston, where he led the field in greens in regulation and made just two bogeys over the final two rounds.
Even when Steve Stricker crept within two of Stenson late in the final round, the Swede never flinched.
With Stricker facing a long eagle putt on the 18th, Stenson, playing behind him, holed out for birdie from a greenside bunker on the 17th.
"I'm just pleased I won here," said Stenson, whose 22-under 262 total equaled the tournament record. "This was a big goal of mine to win a golf tournament after all those nice finishes.”
And a big relief. After all, a good sense of humor only goes so far.
“Of course I've been low and frustrated at times,” said Stenson, who has also been known to have a legendary temper. “But I think if you let that get into your mind too deeply I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you guys. I'm not giving up. I'm not a quitter. I'll always bounce back.”
Not that he’s getting too serious anytime soon.
Asked how long he expects this run to last, Stenson just smiled. “Forever and ever, of course,” he said.