PALM HARBOR — Henrik Stenson had his chances to close the deal, capture his hometown tournament and earn the cherished 72nd hole handshake from The King himself.
Winning at Bay Hill will never be quite the same, but Stenson hopes this week to honor the late Arnold Palmer's memory with his play.
"There's going to be an empty space with him not there," Stenson said Sunday after the Valspar Championship. "I'll try to make Arnie proud and play well."
Stenson and Arnie's course have been a nice pairing since the 40-year-old Swede moved to Lake Nona 10 years ago.
Stenson finished inside the top 25 during six of eight starts at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, including three straight top-five showings.
In 2015, Stenson held the back-nine lead after he birdied No. 12. But consecutive three-putts on the 15th and 16th holes opened the door for winner Matt Every.
"That was a bit painful, being [Palmer's] tournament and being in Orlando," Stenson said.
Last March, Stenson was tied for the Sunday lead after 13 holes but made bogey on Nos. 14 and 16 while Jason Day pulled away for the win.
Much has changed since then for Stenson, who showed he could close on Sunday during the biggest moment of his career.
Stenson turned in one of the finest final rounds of golf to win the Open Championship, carding a 63 to hold off Phil Mickelson. Stenson enters the tournament ranked No. 5 in the world after a solid, seventh-place showing at the Valspar Championship.
Stenson understandably was a bit off his game in Tampa. A nasty stomach illness forced him to withdraw from the World Golf Championships a week earlier in Mexico City.
"A lot of guys were sick, television crew, support personnel, caddies, players," he said. "It just takes a bit of time before the system is back to normal. I don't feel 100 percent, but close. When you've had that stress you can feel it.
"But I can't say that's been a factor this week by any means."
Arguably the best iron player on the planet, Stenson and his laser-like precision were just a bit off at Innisbrook Resort. During the pivotal third round, he hit just 38.9 percent of the greens in regulation.
"I didn't bring my A game, for sure, tee to green," Stenson said. "That's normally an area where we're a bit sharper than I've been this week. There's been too many unforced errors.
"Anytime you show up with your B game and you finish inside the top 10, it's not a bad week."
Bay Hill often brings out the best in Stenson. He has scored in the 60s during eight of the past 12 rounds on Palmer's brutish course.
"You have to be precise off the tee, hit a lot of fairways, hit a lot of mid-irons," he said. "Woods off par-4s, irons over water on quite a few of them. It suits me well. I like the golf course.
"It has a tough finish; you can't just plunk it down the last three or four holes to finish it off. You have to play some proper golf."
This week, Stenson hopes for a proper finish. Either way, he plans to be in the mix at Arnold Palmer's tournament for years to come.
"I'll keep coming back and try to make it happen one day," he said.
This article is written by Edgar Thompson from The Orlando Sentinel and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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