Stenson, Donald take different routes to the top

MEDINAH, Ill. -- Henrik Stenson knows how big a major championship victory would be back home in Sweden, even if it would still leave him miles behind Annika Sorenstam. No Swede has ever won a men's major.

Then again, such a victory would be big for Europe, too.

No European has won a men's major since Paul Lawrie at the 1999 British Open. And you have to go all the way back to 1930 to find a European PGA winner. Tommy Armour, the Silver Scot, was the last to do so.

Stenson and England's Luke Donald are the biggest hopes to end such misery at the PGA Championship. They are tied for the lead with Americans Billy Andrade and Tim Herron through two rounds at Medinah Country Club, although Tiger Woods lurks just a shot behind.

They could not have arrived at this point any more differently.

Donald, 28, is all but a household name to American golf fans. He played college golf locally at Northwestern, won two Big Ten individual titles and was the 1999 individual NCAA champion. After turning pro, he remained in the States, and now has homes in Chicago and Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., He has two PGA Tour victories, including this year's Honda Classic, as well as two European Tour titles. He is ranked 11th in the world.

"I'm very much geared toward the American circuit now," said Donald, who shot 68. "I think everything I'm trying to work on in my golf swing is to get the ball in a higher trajectory that comes down softer. ... Even the tour events in Europe, you can play in the air."

Donald has struggled with expectations in the majors, getting off to poor starts at both the U.S. Open and British Open this year.

Stenson, 30, is much more of an unknown, but his credentials suggest he could be right there with Donald. He is ranked 17th in the world, having played most of his golf on the European Tour, where he won the Qatar Masters in January, then finished second at the BMW Asian Open. He tied for 48th at the British Open after a tie for 26th at the U.S. Open.

A long hitter, Stenson will join Donald on the European Ryder Cup team next month at K Club in Ireland, where his career took a sudden downturn turn five years ago when he was competing in the European Open.

Stenson had won earlier that season, but suddenly lost his game. It got so bad that he walked off the course after just nine holes, part of an 18-month stretch where he struggled to make cuts while keeping his sanity, but he never considered giving up.

"I think if I thought that way, I wouldn't be here today," said Stenson, who shot 68. "There were some tough times, but I kept on going. And that's what got me back on track again."

Stenson is feeling good enough about things to be looking around for a U.S. base in Florida, with an eye perhaps on playing the PGA Tour.

On Saturday, he'll get a taste of golf's big time, playing in the final twosome, the world watching.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.