Stenson leads Swedish challenge but watch out for Noren
Ice man Henrik Stenson is keeping trademark cool about his expectations at Carnoustie.
Stenson certainly embraced his year as Champion Golfer, following his dramatic and record-breaking victory at Royal Troon two years ago.
The Claret Jug has been through quite a bit since it was first awarded in 1873. It’s held a cocktail of celebratory alcoholic beverages, Tom Watson famously dented it, Tom Lehman’s children broke it and Padraig Harrington’s son filled it with ladybirds.
Three-time winner Jack Nicklaus described holding it as like clutching a ‘newborn baby’.
Stenson, in contrast, famously took it for a joyride on a jet ski and threatened to take it skydiving, should it ever come back in his possession.
However, the former champion arrives in Carnoustie admitting his form makes him unlikely to challenge, despite top-ten finishes at this year’s Masters and US Open.
An elbow injury forced him out of last week’s Scottish Open and had this been any other tournament, Stenson would likely have opted for another week’s rest and relaxation.
“I’d say my expectations were quite low and I’m not 100 percent,” said Stenson, who plays alongside Tommy Fleetwood and Jimmy Walker in the first and second round.
“I’ve got some inflammation in my arm and it’s not felt great but I’m preparing and hopefully it will be good to go by the first round.
“The Open is such a special tournament to me and I’ll just have to do what I can with we have got. Carnoustie is such a great course, it really suits me.”
Jesper Parnevik twice came close to becoming the first Swedish golfer to be named Champion Golfer with second-place finishes in 1994 and 1997, behind Nick Price and Justin Leonard respectively.
But it was another 19 years before Stenson finally got Sweden on the honours board, edging that dramatic final-round duel with Phil Mickelson in an Open finish that will endure through the ages.
However, while Stenson may be cautious about his form and fitness, there are five other Swedish players ready to make their mark on the Angus coast.Alex Noren won last year’s European PGA Championship and held off Russell Knox and Chris Wood to claim the recent French Open, which is probably why he’s been rewarded with a tee-time alongside world number one Dustin Johnson.
Noren is a former Scottish Open winner who clearly relishes links golf, ever since his top 20 at his Open debut a decade ago. He also finished in a tie for sixth last year at Royal Birkdale. He’s also proved he can mix it with the best, edged out in a play-off for a maiden PGA Tour title earlier this year.
Alexander Bjork won his maiden European Tour title at China Open in April, while Jens Dantorp enjoyed a successful Scottish Open, leading into the final round at Gullane before finishing in a tie for third.
Jonas Blixt will be looking to improve on his tie for second at the 2014 Masters, his best previous major result, having won the Zurich Classic of New Orleans with partner Cameron Smith on the PGA Tour this year.
And Marcus Kinhult is making his major championship debut, after a career best fifth-place finish behind Noren at the French Open.
Where Jesper led the charge nearly two decades ago, the Swedes are coming to Carnoustie.
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