September 22 2013
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
ATLANTA -- Henrik Stenson completed a wire-to-wire victory at the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola on Sunday and walked away with the biggest prize in golf in the process.
Stenson's three-stroke victory, his second win in his last three starts, gave him the FedExCup and its $10 million bonus. The Swede, who also won $1.44 million for the TOUR Championship title, joined Bill Haas as the only players to win the FedExCup in their debuts at East Lake Golf Club.
Stenson is the first European to win the FedExCup in its seven-year history.
Sunday's win also completes a fantastic stretch in the last two months of the PGA TOUR season in which Stenson arguably played the best golf of anybody in the world. He won two TOUR events -- including the Deutsche Bank Championship, the second event in the FedExCup Playoffs -- and had three other top-three finishes in his last seven starts.
"It's been an incredible run," Stenson said during the trophy ceremony following Sunday's win. "I don't know what to say. I'm speechless."
Stenson, who came into the week ranked second in the FedExCup standings, closed with a 68, his fourth straight sub-par round, one of only two players to accomplish the feat. He finished at 13 under, three stokes ahead of Jordan Spieth and Steve Stricker, who tied for second.
Making his first career start at East Lake, Stenson's ball-striking was superb this week. He ranked first in the field in greens in regulation, htting nearly 78 percent of his green. He was tied for third in driving accuracy. And no one in the field played the par-3 holes better than he did -- five of his 20 birdies came on par 3s.
Spieth, Stricker and Dustin Johnson made sure it wasn't a cakewalk for the man who started the final round with a four-stroke advantage.
Spieth, the 20-year-old phenom who had no status on the PGA TOUR at the start of the season, shot a 64 on Sunday that moved him to 10 under. Spieth, who ranks sixth on TOUR in final-round scoring average, birdied three straight to close the front nine and four in a row on the back before a bogey from the greenside bunker at the 17th hole all but ended his title bid.
Stricker, who had played his way into the top five who controlled their own FedExCup destiny during the first three rounds, bogeyed his first hole but went on to make four birdies and his first eagle in 572 holes at East Lake to put some pressure on Stenson. But in the end his 65 left the man who had once planned on going bow-hunting for elk in Colorado this week, three strokes behind.
Johnson, who was playing with Stenson, fell behind early with consecutive bogeys at the fifth and sixth holes. But he briefly joined the group at 10 under when he made four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine before ending his bid with a messy triple bogey at No. 17.
But Stenson, who ran roughshod on East Lake's front nine this week with a cumulative 14 under, kept his stumbles to a minimum on the back nine Sunday. After a bogey at the par-4 14th, his lead had dwindled to two shots over Spieth. But he bounced back with a birdie at the par-5 15th, then almost holed out his bunker shot at 16 to easily save par there.
Stenson needed just 13 putts on the back nine Sunday. Since 1992, just three other champions needed 13 or fewer putts on their final nine holes en route to victory -- Jim Furyk in 2010 (13 putts); Adam Scott in 2006 (12 putts); and Paul Azinger in 1992 (13 putts).
"it was a tough day, absolutely," Stenson said. "I mean, especially with so many things going on at the same time here. I kind of knew, well, even if I don't win today, I could still win the FedExCup. Do you want to focus on that? At the end of the day, it was all about going out there and trying my best and try to win this golf tournament because then I knew I was going to leave with two trophies.
"That was the hard bit to put everything aside, as always, and focus on the right things. I didn't play my best round today, but I was hanging in there, took the right decisions."
Said Spieth about his chase of Stenson: "I really wasn't looking at the boards. I figured he was up there a ways. He still had 15 to play. So that's an automatic birdie for him if he hits the fairway."
Less than two years ago, Stenson had fallen to 230th in the Official World Golf Rankings, but he worked hard to improve and get back to the world-class level that he showed in winning the TOUR's signature event, THE PLAYERS Championship, in 2009.
"Henrik had a little blip on his screen there for a while, much like everybody," Stricker said. "It's nice to see that he's put in the work and the energy and the time to get it back and to reach really the ultimate thing in our sport, to win the FedExCup."
Said Stenson: "This is obviously the highest of everything, to win the FedExCup and win the TOUR Championship and win the Deutsche Bank two weeks ago. 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."
So impressed was Stricker that he thinks the PGA TOUR Player of the Year voting will be between Stenson and Tiger Woods, who won five times on TOUR this year. The voting begins Sunday night, with the winner determined at the end of the week.
"I would think about Henrik. I would think it would be up between him and Tiger probably," Stricker said. "Henrik's had an amazing year."
Woods closed with a 67 but was never a factor after failing to make even one birdie in the first round for just the seventh time as a pro. He finished even par and was tied for 22nd. He had come into the week ranked No. 1 in points, one spot ahead of Stenson, but was never a factor in his bid to win a third FedExCup title.
Webb Simpson shot the tournament's low round of 63 on Sunday to take solo fourth.