Stenson eyes breakthrough at PGA

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – At the beginning of the week at Oak Hill, Tiger Woods was picked by many to win his fifth PGA Championship because of his dominant performance at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational the week prior.

Phil Mickelson also came into the tournament with a lot of momentum after his triumph in the Open Championship at Muirfield.

Henrik Stenson was the player these champions beat on the way to their respective wins. The 37-year-old Swede finished second in both those events.

The second-place finish at Muirfield added to his two top-3s in majors.

He is comfortable with success at the PGA level. In 2008 at Whistling Straits, he finished in a tie for fourth. And in 2009 at Medinah, in a tie for sixth.

"We're getting close," he said at Muirfield. "It's all about putting yourself in position. The more times you do that, the better the chances of winning are."

With a third-round 69 on Saturday, the Gothenburg native has again put himself in position to win his first major championship with 18 holes to play. At 7 under for the tournament, he is two shots back of Jim Furyk, who, after a 68 on Saturday, has a one-shot lead over Jason Dufner.

"It was a tough grind out there today," Stenson said. "The breeze was making it pretty tricky for us, and it was hard work.

"I definitely felt all that hard work starting to take its toll coming into the last couple of holes, but I managed to mobilize some energy and keep it together."

Stenson has not had a PGA Tour victory since the '09 Players Championship, in which he shot a bogey-free 66 in the final round to win by four shots. The next year he would begin a slump that he didn't come out of until late 2012, when he won the South African Open in November on the European Tour.

Two years ago, when the PGA Championship was held at the Atlanta Athletic Club, Stenson was playing in his club championship in Sweden, which he couldn't even manage to win.

"I was not playing great, and I ended up finishing second, a shot back," he said. "So I guess it's not something that will stand out as a highlight on my [résumé].

"Everybody disappears for a little while and comes back," he said Saturday night. "It's good to be back playing good golf at these big events in the middle of the summer."

Stenson's resurgence is no surprise to members of his team.

"Henrik has just been working hard and doing the right things, and we're seeing the benefits," said his caddie, Gareth Lord.

"But it's not like he's never done this."

Stenson owes a big part of this recent success to his fitness routine. In the past 18 months, he has picked up 6 pounds of muscle mass just around his core. He's had to change his pants and shirt size to accommodate the new muscle on his lean 6-foot-2 frame.

"We've been working hard on getting him bigger in the right places," said Cornel Driessen, Stenson's strength and conditioning coach. "He has more stability in shoulders and core. He doesn't get under the ball as much because he is stronger on the side that he was weak."

When Stenson tees off Sunday afternoon in the second-to-last group with countryman Jonas Blixt, he will have the opportunity to become the first Swedish-born male player to win a major.

Last week at the Bridgestone, he was playing for second place to Tiger's dominance. At Muirfield, he was in the hunt on the back nine on Sunday, but Mickelson won the tournament with birdies on four of the last six holes.

At Oak Hill, neither Woods nor Mickelson can stand in his way of making history. The No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world are not in contention after disappointing third rounds. Perhaps it's Stenson's turn to own the spotlight. He has done everything over the past month but win a tournament.

"It's going to be a big challenge again tomorrow to keep the mind in the right place, and if I can do that, I hope I have a chance on the back nine," Stenson said. "But it's a pretty packed leaderboard.

"There's going to be a few guys with a good chance, so there's no point thinking about the future. It's about thinking about the shots I'm going to play and how to play them."