ATLANTA -- The comeback is almost impossible to put into perspective. Two years ago, he couldn't hit a fairway with anything longer than a two-iron and could barely hit the hole with a putter from outside of 10 feet, a bad combination for someone who plays golf for a living.
Henrik Stenson experienced one of the most spectacular falls in golf, going from the 5th-ranked player in the world in 2009 all the way down to 230th in 2011. To add insult to injury, he lost a fortune in the Stanford Financial Ponzi scheme, a sum he refuses to discuss. He always says, "I have the ability to make more. Many others who lost their life savings do not."He reiterated that point at the Tour Championship, saying, "At the end of the day it's just money. I'm not struggling by any means, so Ill just say, money is paper, right?"He has a lot more paper now. With a final-round 68 for a four-day 13-under-par total, Stenson won the Tour Championship by three shots over Steve Stricker and 20-year-old rookie Jordan Spieth. In so doing, he also won the FedEx Cup and the 10-million bonus that goes with it making this an 11.44 million week for the Swede.
For a while it looked like it might be a rout. Stenson started the day with a four-shot lead over Dustin Johnson, and he extended it to six with a birdie at the par-four seventh.
But things got interesting on the back nine. Spieth made seven birdies in 10 holes to pull within a shot of the lead after Stenson made his first bogey of the day at 14. But the youngster from Texas who will be playing as a captain's pick in the upcoming President Cup matches, plugged his approach to the par-four 17th in the greenside bunker and made bogey. A par at 18 left Spieth at 10-under, tied with Sticker.
"I just hit it fat," Spieth said of the shot at 17. "I was in between clubs. If I hit 8-iron to the left pin it was going to be hard to control, so I tried to kill a 9. If I did kill the 9-iron it would have been perfect, but just a touch fat and hit it in the bunker."When asked if he knew that Spieth had pulled to within a shot, Stenson smiled and said, "I'm not just a pretty face. I can put one and one together."He might not be in the running for Player of the Year honors, although his name was floated by a few players, including Steve Stricker, who also mentioned Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. But there is no doubt that Stenson is the Player of the Second Half of 2013.
From July 1 through the final putt at East Lake, Stenson finished second to Mickelson at the British Open, second to Tiger at the Bridgestone Invitational, third behind Jason Dufner and Jim Furyk at the PGA Championship and first at the Deutsche Bank and Tour Championship.
"Really from the British Open on he's been playing consistently well," Tiger said of Stenson. "I played with him that first day where through five holes he never missed a shot." On Sunday afternoon, Stenson didn't drive the ball as well as he had the previous three days, but the irons remained superb. For most of the front nine he hit the center of greens and made routine pars along with one kick-in birdie at the par-four 7th. It was a classic "come and get me" strategy, and it worked, although just barely.
Speith's late run was matched by Stricker who rolled in an eagle at the par-five 15th to pull within two. One hole later, Stricker almost holed a pitch shot from behind the green for birdie.
In the end, it wouldn't have been enough. Stenson birdied 15 to extend the lead to three with three to play. An up-and-down par from the greenside bunker at 16 and a perfect iron shot from the fairway bunker at 17 locked up the victory. Stenson could have made double-bogey at the par-three 18th and still won. Instead, he got up and down for par from the right greenside bunker and fought back tears as he hugged his caddie in celebration.
"At the end of the day, it was about going out there and trying my best to win this tournament, because then I knew I was going to leave with two trophies," he said. "This is obviously the highest of everything, to win the FedEx Cup and win the Tour Championship and win the Deutsche Bank two weeks ago. It's been unbelievable. To come back (the way I did), that's what pays off, the hard work."