Race to Dubai win would crown Henrik Stenson’s perfect year

Recent British Open winner has edge going into DP World Tour Championship

Henrik Stenson: “Whether I play great or good or average or whatever it might be, I’m going to try my hardest for four days.” Photograph: by Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Henrik Stenson: “Whether I play great or good or average or whatever it might be, I’m going to try my hardest for four days.” Photograph: by Andrew Redington/Getty Images

 

The European Tour can perhaps lay claim to sport’s most perfect system. With the order of merit title to be decided over four days at the Earth Course in Dubai, the tournament features the three protagonists who have defined European golf’s year.

Henrik Stenson’s €300,000 advantage makes the Swede the strong favourite to take the Race to Dubai for a second time in four attempts. His closing round to win the British Open in July was heralded as among the finest of all time.

In April, Danny Willett became the first Englishman in two decades to win the US Masters. And Alex Noren may be late to the party, but the Swede remains worthy of immense respect and credit courtesy of a run of four wins in 11 tournaments since July.

“I’m in great position,” said Stenson (40). “I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I wanted to be in a position where I had it in my own hands – knowing that if I win here, that would seal the deal. I’m in an even better position given that I don’t necessarily need to win, even though that’s my mindset coming in. It would be one of my finest achievements.

“It was pretty sweet to be here as Europe’s No 1 in 2013,” he added, “and I don’t think it would be any less sweet being here as Europe’s No 1 in 2016 with the season that I’ve had; winning the Open and some other fine performances throughout the year.

“I’m going to give it my best. We all have a long season behind us. This is the final stretch, four rounds of golf. Whether I play great or good or average or whatever it might be, I’m going to try my hardest for four days. It’s been a great summer and a great year. I hope I can finish off in good style.”

Play well mindset

Stenson was taken aback when he was awarded honorary life membership of the European Tour on Wednesday. He is the first Swede to receive that status.

“It was going to be a big year, 2016,” he said. “We had the Olympics, Ryder Cup, the majors. My mindset was I wanted to play well at those ones, and a lot of times over my career when I really put my mind to something, I managed to achieve it.

“I’m not saying I haven’t tried in the majors before, but in terms of preparation and sometimes when you just know you want to peak at a certain time, you can actually make it happen.

“I had that important win at the BMW International in Cologne [in June]. That was a key moment for me. I had not won for a while, and to get that one over the finish line, it felt like, okay, winning again is out of the window, and I just pressed on from there.”

Since 2012, only Stenson and Rory McIlroy have won the European Tour’s $8 million, season-ending event. In seven appearances here, McIlroy has never finished worse than 11th, and is an aggregate of 108 under par.

McIlroy said he was not at all surprised with Noren’s recent run – the pair have practised together in Florida – but the 34-year-old Swede said he is not overly concerned about Race to Dubai permutations.

“The biggest question between me and my coach is how we’re going to hit that certain shot, what did go well last week and what didn’t go well,” Noren said. “It’s more about preparation than numbers.”

Whatever happens in Dubai, Stenson will have another important task to focus on before the end of the year as the players’ representative on the selection panel choosing Europe’s next Ryder Cup captain.

European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley and past captains Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley and José María Olazábal will join Stenson in choosing Clarke’s successor following the 17-11 defeat at Hazeltine.

Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn is odds-on favourite to lead the team in Paris in 2018, with Stenson admitting he would like the role himself in the future.

Future captain

“Of course that would be a great honour and something that would be a lot of fun,” Stenson said. “It’s also a lot of work, as I’ve seen closely from some of my older colleagues that have been taking on that role. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, but I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t turn it down if I had the offer in the future.”

Asked if the criticism and second-guessing that comes with being a losing captain would put him off, Stenson said: “No, I don’t think so. We’re used to winning and losing.

“Every captain, I’m sure, even if your team wins, you’ll look back at the week and feel like, oh, maybe that wasn’t the right decision, but it’s like that every time –is it a seven-iron, is it an eight-iron?

“You’ve got to make your decisions and go with it. So I don’t think there’s anything that would put me off, not even you guys” – meaning the media. Guardian Service

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