February 22 2011
MARANA, Ariz. -- Henrik Stenson won the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship in 2007 and finished third in his title defense.
But then the tournament moved down the street from the Gallery at Dove Mountain to the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, and Stenson has lost in the first round each of the last two years.
"We changed courses, so my results haven't been as good as they used to be," Stenson said ruefully.
And at No. 65 in the world, the Swede actually was the odd man out this year when the field of 64 was finalized two weeks ago. But Toru Taniguchi withdrew on Saturday and Stenson got the call.
That's the good news. The bad? Stenson's opponent will be world No. 1 Lee Westwood at 2:05 p.m. ET.
"It's going to be a challenge tomorrow," Stenson said. "That's what happens when you're ranked 64 or 65, you get to play the world's best players at the moment. It's going to be a tough one.
"My game hasn't been the best the last year or so and it's a work in progress. It's moving in the right direction. I'm struggling a little bit with that. And then it's going to be a tough day tomorrow, but I'll give my best."
Stenson had just flown to Orlando from his home in Dubai, arriving on Friday night, before finding out he would get to play at Dove Mountain. He had planned to play in the Mayakoba Golf Classic at Riviera Maya-Cancun instead.
"It was very close for me not to getting in the HBSC Championship in November," Stenson said. "And this one was even closer. I've been hanging on a thin thread now for the last two WGCs, I need to pick up some game this week or next week to get in Doral.
"So I'm right on the bubble. I was going to play anyway. I was either going to play in Mexico or play this week. This is nice to get the call on Saturday and be able to make proper plans."
Stenson, who won the 2009 PLAYERS Championship, was once ranked as high as fourth in the world. The 2010 season, though, was a forgettable one with health issues and swing problems that sent him tumbling down the rankings.
The highlight of last year was likely the tie for third at the British Open, Stenson's only top-10 of the season. The lowlight? Probably that 80th place at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational and the four missed cuts that followed.
"I was the one saving Tiger (from finishing last) at Akron," Stenson said. "So I had a long stretch of problems there. So that obviously doesn't help, if you're playing and you're playing sick and playing poorly and then not getting any fresh points on the board.
“So, yeah, it has taken a bit of a dip in the World Rankings, but I hope it's only one way from here on, and that's up." – Helen Ross