I was thrilled to see how well Henrik Stenson played in the second half of the 2013 season. He overpowered golf courses and opponents, won money titles on both sides of the Atlantic and, as bit of frosting on the cake, he won the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus.
Why would that put a smile on my face?
Well, I would hate to have Stenson, who seems to be an alright guy, be remembered mostly for stripping down to his underwear to play a shot.
In 2009, Stenson was playing at Doral and hit a wayward drive on the third hole that landed in the muck at the edge of a pond. When he surveyed the shot, he decided he would play the ball. Except that to protect his clothing the rest of the day, he'd need to discard all of his clothes except his underwear.
And just like that, he was standing in the goop in nothing but his skivvies. He successfully put the ball back into play. Video of the incident spread like wildfire, and Stenson became an Internet sensation.
And four years later, there's Stenson, tearing up the PGA Tour and European Tour, looking very much like the best player in the world.
It can certainly be argued that Stenson's big year (or half-year) actually began with a loss. He was in the hunt in the Scottish Open with Phil Mickelson, made a couple of costly mistakes down the stretch and finished in a tie for third.
Prior to that, he was having a so-so season on that side of the pond. A lot of finishes in the 20s, but nothing spectacular. The next week, he finished second in the British Open, once again to Mickelson.
And when he Stenson made the trans-Atlantic trip to the U.S., it was more of the same. How's this for four finishes in six starts: T-2, 3, 1, 1. The last of those was the Tour Championship, FedEx Cup and the tidy $10 million bonus. And don't forget the $9 million or so he collected for being the Order of Merit winner on the European Tour.
Henrik Stenson... Last 5 events 2013: 83-under par First 5 events 2014: 4-under par— Jamie Kennedy (@jamieonsport) March 12, 2014
Obviously, there are no guarantees he'll have a similar season in 2014. He posted 29 rounds in the 60s last year. He's healthy, still strong and will turn 38 next month.
Stenson was seventh in fairways hit a year ago, first in greens in regulations, fourth in scoring average, first in ball-striking...you get the idea. He was a beast and certainly hasn't lost anything from his tool box that would prevent him from doing similarly this year.
It's early in the season, with the first major of the year still a month away. But based on how Stenson's season has started, he definitely needs a spark like he got in Scotland in 2013.
In three stroke-play events in this PGA Tour season, his best finish is a T-16.
The man has won nine times on the European Tour and four times on the PGA Tour, but there is a hole on the resume that needs to be filled if Stenson is to be considered one of the greats of the game.
He's made 31 starts in major championships, and his best finish is that second in the British Open last year. Only five top 10 finishes, but he has made the cut in 22 of his 31 starts. Stenson has won big tournaments, and those wins are recent.
Could this be the year the winner of the 2009 Players Championship take that next step up?
"You know, you are going to have your ups and downs. I might have had two (downs) that were deeper than most but the belief never went away," Stenson was quoted by Matthew Knight of CNN.com last month. "If my game is in good shape and it's my week, I definitely think so."
The downs he referred to were a pair of slumps in his career, one that had him as low as 230th in the Official World Golf Rankings. He's also had to overcome a staggering financial catastrophe, losing millions of dollars as one of the victims of Allen Stanford's Ponzi-like scheme, per Knight.
Golf owes nothing to anyone. It's a game of what have you done for me lately.
And lately, Stenson has done a lot.