Stenson seeking perfect birthday present at Masters
Henrik Stenson celebrates his 42nd birthday today with his place in the pantheon of modern Champion Golfers safely secured.
Stenson has already blazed a trail for Swedish golfers, becoming his nation’s first-ever male winner of a major as a result of his historic triumph in The 145th Open at Royal Troon in 2016.
Why would the two-time European Tour Golfer of the Year rest on his laurels, though?
Before he attempts to become a Champion Golfer again, when the world’s oldest major returns to Carnoustie for the eighth time, Stenson goes looking to secure himself an unforgettable birthday present as he tees off in The Masters at Augusta.
The duel that put others in the shade
The weight of history bore down upon Stenson’s shoulders like never before as he closed in on ending Sweden’s agonising wait for a major in men’s golf in 2016.
Almost two decades earlier, on the same hallowed Ayrshire links, his countryman Jesper Parnevik had led by two shots going in to the final round of The 136th Open Championship in 1997 but eventually lost out to American Justin Leonard by three strokes.
With the final round looming, Stenson received a message of imploration from Parnevik, telling him: “Go out and finish what I didn’t manage to finish.”
He duly delivered.
Stenson was forced to scrap tooth and nail to get his hands on the Claret Jug and his titanic struggle against Phil Mickelson has gone down in the annals as one of the greatest head-to-head battles in the history of The Open.
Comparable to Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus’ captivating ‘Duel in the Sun’ at Turnberry in 1977, Stenson and Phil Mickelson carved out a roaring chasm between themselves and the rest of the field, and then went toe-to-toe as records tumbled.
Mickelson had begun his Royal Troon campaign by tying the major scoring record of 63, becoming the oldest player to do so in The Open, in the opening round but when the chips were down, Stenson matched his glittering feat.
Five birdies on the front nine helped give the Swede a one-shot advantage at the turn and he continued to play flawlessly, eventually bettering Mickelson’s bogey-free 65 by two shots.
His overall score of 264 also set a new major championship record as Stenson became only the ninth player to capture his first major after the age of 40.
Proudest moment of my career, huge thanks to everyone for your support. A dream come true! H pic.twitter.com/jyVNh2Wmf2— Henrik Stenson (@henrikstenson) July 18, 2016
Henrik makes his mark at Muirfield
Three years previous to his Royal Troon coronation, Stenson enjoyed a breakthrough 2013, which saw the former world No.2 win both the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai on the European Tour.
That self-styled ‘double-double’, so coined by Stenson himself as he had won the season-ending tournaments of both tours, came after his impressive display at The Open at Muirfield in 2013.
Having yet to taste glory in a major, the Claret Jug only just escaped Stenson’s grasp, with the Scandinavian finishing second behind Mickelson, the opponent that would go on to push him to his greatest achievement.
Stenson was tied fifth alongside Angel Cabrera, Zach Johnson and Ryan Moore heading into the final round on one over, with Lee Westwood, who would go on to squander his advantage, four full strokes ahead.
Mickelson had begun the day five full shots behind Westwood but produced a scintillating round of 66 to claim The Open Championship for the first time in his career.
Stenson rose above the likes of Westwood and Johnson with 70 – the same score he carded in his first and second trips around Muirfield – to finish three strokes behind and claim his finest result in golf’s oldest major so far.
Of course, the best was yet to come.