Stenson holds one-shot lead at Arnold Palmer Invitational
March 17, 2018
By Jim McCabe, PGATOUR.COM
Henrik Stenson keeps steady to maintain lead at Arnold Palmer
ORLANDO, Fla. – It is an impressive gathering atop the leaderboard at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard – a heady group of PGA TOUR tournament winners, major champions and highly-ranked names.
Between Henrik Stenson – who leads Bryson DeChambeau by one – and one of those tied for 10th, Tiger Woods, the standings include names that would surely please the late Mr. Palmer – Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Ryan Moore, Charley Hoffman and Rickie Fowler. Forget Woods’ 79 PGA TOUR wins; the other seven names have won 41 times on the PGA TOUR and on 41 occasions worldwide.
So, it’s a stout list of talent, though one name stands out if you invite a conversation about pure ball-striking: Stenson.
“Oh, he hits it good. It’s nice; it’s really nice,” marveled McIlroy, a glimmer of admiration in his Irish eyes because when it comes to striking a golf ball, the best in the world know who the best are.
Henrik Stenson's monster putt on No. 9 at Arnold Palmer
Having played alongside Stenson’s rounds of 64 and 69 to open this API, Adam Scott – no slouch as a ball-striker – nodded his approval. “It’s quite a lethal combination he has, that strong 3-wood and those irons that drop from the sky,” said the Aussie.
In Saturday’s third round, the “lethal combination” was again on display – Stenson hit 11 fairways and 11 greens, including five of the last six – and had the putter not let him down his lead, would likely be three or four. Instead, he shot 1-under 71 and at 12 under will start Sunday’s final round one clear of DeChambeau (72), two in front of McIlroy (67), and three ahead of Rose (67) and Moore (69).
Fowler (70), tied with Hoffman, Talor Gooch (73) and Byeong-Hun An (72), is four back, while Woods shot 69 – 209 and is tied for 10th and five behind.
“I could have a two- or three-shot lead, which would have been a nice cushion,” said Stenson, “but I’ve been in the mix a few times and I’m back here trying to give it a go tomorrow.”
That’s a reference to finishes inside the top 10 in four straight years (2013-16), but while he came up short each time, rarely does he have to cite ball-striking.
“I’ve watched him hit a lot of golf balls (at Lake Nona, across town) and he’s one of those guys, when he’s in the mood, he’s unstoppable,” said Graeme McDowell.
Having worked with heralded swing coach Pete Cowen, who also mentors Stenson, McDowell has seen plenty of the Swede. “He’s such a big man. He’s the typical Viking from that part of the world – you can imagine 6-foot-5 bearded guys with an axe in their hand coming at you. That’s pretty much what Stenson would look like coming at you.”
Even out on the PGA TOUR, where the talent is deep and the list of possible winners goes on endlessly, Stenson stands out on a short list of premier ball-strikers – but of them, the way he goes about it is unique.
“He’s such a big man, he creates so much elevation,” said McDowell. “Pete talks about it all the time, pressuring the ground and dropping the arms to creating so much downward pressure on the back of the ball. He’s one of the best 3-wood players on the planet. Just a phenomenal ball-striker – and when he gets the putter warmed up, he’s unstoppable.”
Late Saturday afternoon, the putter didn’t heat up – missed birdie chances from 12 feet at the 13th, 7 feet at the 15th, 12 feet for eagle at 16, and another 7-footer at 18.
Still, in possession of a one-stroke lead, Stenson shrugged, smiled, and declared himself satisfied. “Especially with the way I played coming in. I think that I didn’t really miss a shot the last six holes.”
In other words, status quo for Stenson.
Henrik Stenson’s interview after Round 3 of Arnold Palmer