Henrik Stenson still has drive for the Open
Swede will ‘have a laugh or two’ with playing partners Tiger Woods and Angel Cabrera
Henrik Stenson of Sweden talks to the media after a practice round prior to the start of The 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England. Photogrpah: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
World number two Henrik Stenson is hoping to “have a laugh or two” playing alongside Tiger Woods during the opening rounds, although the joker in the Open pack turned deadly serious when discussing his dream of securing a first major title.
Stenson tees off on Thursday alongside Woods and the former Masters champion Angel Cabrera but, despite having yet to win a major, the Swede begins the tournament in finer fettle than either of his playing partners and is regarded as a contender for the title.
No Scandinavian has lifted the Claret Jug but Stenson’s form over the last year has been hugely impressive. He finished second at Muirfield last summer and third at Oak Hill in the PGA Championship, ending the year as the first player to win the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai in the same season.
His career trajectory has taken a drastic upward surge but the 38-year-old is aware that the majority of spectators at Hoylake following his three-ball will have eyes honed on Woods, who returns to a major championship for the first time after a lengthy lay-off following back surgery.
When asked if he was ready for any extra pressure that came with playing with Woods, Stenson joked that it was the American who should be feeling the heat lining up alongside himself. Stenson said: “I think it would have been a lot of sleepless nights for him of late. When did the draw come out? He looked tired, didn’t he?
“No, we have played a lot, but, yeah, I’ve had some good success playing against him and managed to beat him a couple of times. So I’ll try to play my game and play it as well as I can, and a few times it’s been good enough to beat him. He’s just one of the guys I need to beat if I want to do well this week but it’s a good start if you know you can beat him.
“I think potentially the tough draw is the group ahead, because everyone (spectators) is searching for position. Whenever he’s finished on the hole, they’re trying to get into a good position to watch the next hole. That could be probably tough for them to play in that group.”
Asked how he liked to approach tournament golf, Stenson said that, at times, it is beneficial to lighten the mood on the course. “Yeah, we’ll have a laugh or two. It kind of depends on how someone is playing and how the whole thing turns out. Every now and again we get the opportunity to socialise or small talk a little bit. I’ll just fire away tomorrow and see what comes at him.”
Stenson was in prime position to claim a first Open title in Scotland last year but was undone by Phil Mickelson’s late charge down the back nine, finishing three shots behind the American and ending the tournament on even par.
For a player whose form had nosedived at the beginning of 2012, it has been a startling turnaround. Stenson started that year ranked 230th after a decline fuelled by injury and illness – coming after he lost a significant sum of money in Allen Stanford’s Ponzi scheme – but he has clawed back to within touching distance of the summit. A victory here would see him usurp Adam Scott at the top of the rankings, providing the Australian slumps, but it is an elusive major title that Stenson craves the most.
“The Open Championship is a highlight of any season for any player and I think especially European born ones,” he said. “I started playing golf in ’88 and I watched the Ryder Cup and the Open Championship in ’89. So I got some of my early junior memories from watching golf on television from this championship. It would mean the world to me to win.
“So just because I’ve had some great success, I don’t think that dream has gone away. It’s the last thing on my CV to make it complete, more or less, in my eyes. So I will try my hardest to make it happen. Motivation is always a factor, and you’ve got to have that drive if you want to make those things happen. I feel like I still have that.”