Having a caddy with the experience of Fanny Sunesson on his bag is a big benefit, says Henrik Stenson. (Getty Images)
Stenson hoping to show that his game's rounding back into form
Henrik Stenson slid down the world rankings over the past year, but his Saturday 67 showed he's rediscovering his game. And, he says, there are more good scores where that one came from.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Henrik Stenson appreciated the way the question was phrased. He really did. When he answered, though, the Swede could afford to be blunt.
After all, Stenson knows he's a better player than he's shown this year. Two top-10s in Europe and none in the United States just won't cut it. But he has given himself a shot to turn things around Sunday at the 139th British Open.
Stenson has his work cut out for him, to be sure. He’ll be playing in the penultimate group with Martin Kaymer in the final round at the storied Old Course, but he’s trailing Louis Oosthuizen by eight shots.
But stranger things have happened. And regardless of what transpires on these mystic and magestic links come Sunday afternoon, Stenson knows he has taken a big step in the right direction this week.
"Everybody is so nice to me, they're all saying, 'you haven't quite been up to standard,'" he said. "I've been playing really poorly this year. No point in trying put that in cotton. ... I've been across the board, I'd say, both long game and short game, and a lot of times it goes hand in hand.
"Now obviously I'm striking it a bit better and my short game is better, too, and putting has been pretty solid all week. You probably shouldn't be too confident about it, because it's one more day, but I've finally managed to find some of the lines at St. Andrews greens, which I've found very difficult in the past.”
When his game was at its peak in the not too distant past, Stenson could be counted on to contend at majors like the British Open. He rose as high as fourth in the world in 2009 a week after he won THE PLAYERS Championship, but now, just over a year later, he’s tumbled to 33rd.
“It’s not something anybody likes to see, but as I said, the way I've played, I deserve nothing else but to fall down there in the rankings,” Stenson said, again at his most candid. “… So it's just a matter of filling up those points again. It's a good motivation at times, as well.”
Off the course, Stenson has a wickedly understated sense of humor, which he put on display as he met with the media Saturday after his round. The weather? “Flat calm, same as yesterday,” he said with a grin, before acknowledging that the blustery conditions put quite a premium on putting in the third round.
“It's feels like the wind is trying to rip your pants off, and that's not a good thing,” added the man who famously stripped to his skivvies to play a shot from the water at the World Golf Championships-CA Championship.
The 67 Stenson shot Saturday afternoon matched the low round of the day, also posted by Paul Casey, who’ll start the day in second place, and Robert Rock. The highlight was an eagle at the par-4 13th after a prodigious 5-wood off the tee.
“At first I couldn't tell if it cleared the bunker or not, but it was just going forever, and it went, I think, 320 yards, almost up by the edge of those bushes,” said Stenson, who played a lob wedge for his second shot from 105 yards. “(I) landed it I guess perfectly just on the green. And after a while the crowd went crazy, which I took as a good sign.”
Another good sign? Some would say that’s having Fanny Sunesson on his bag. She was Nick Faldo’s caddy in four of his six major wins, including the one in 1990 at St. Andrews.
“We've had some great success,” Stenson said. “I enjoy her company and she's very experienced, as you say. … Even after all these years I'm not supposed to say that about a lady, but she's very hard-working and dedicated, and she wants to win as bad as I do.”
Toward that end, Stenson came to St. Andrews on the heels of a four-week break to clear his head. He hadn’t played since he tied for 29th at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, but he has worked hard on his game with his coach Pete Cowan.
“Even though I'm not playing my absolute best, it's a big push in the right direction,” Stenson said. “… If we can be in there tomorrow when we enter the back nine, anything can happen.”
Asked what it would mean if he were to win his first major championship at the Home of Golf, Stenson challenged the scribe good-naturedly, “If?” Then he turned serious.
“It's going to be a lot of guys fighting, fighting it out for this one, and obviously there's no point getting ahead of ourselves,’” he said. “But we've been longing a long time I think to have a Swedish male player win a major, if it could happen tomorrow, that would be great, whether it be me … or any of the other guys.
“I can only try my hardest tomorrow, keep my head down and play like I did today, and try and battle these tough conditions because I assume we will have the same ones tomorrow.”