Commentary

Henrik Stenson controls his destiny

Updated: September 20, 2013, 11:46 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- He has suffered through his share of bad days on the golf course, but few where somebody else made Tiger Woods feel like ... well, the way he has made others feel for years.

Henrik Stenson made seven birdies at East Lake on a day when Woods made none. He had one bogey to Woods' three. He hit it stiff while the same probably could be said only for Woods' back.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods and Henrik Stenson
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesDuring the first 18 holes of the 2013 FedEx Cup playoffs finale, Tiger Woods failed to make a single birdie while Tour Championship leader Henrik Stenson carded seven on Thursday playing in the same group.

The result was a 9-shot difference, with Stenson atop the leaderboard through one round of the Tour Championship and Woods in the back of the pack, playing in the first group out on Friday with Jason Dufner, the only player to shoot worse.

"It's a nice feeling to hit those kind of shots playing with the world's best player," said Stenson, who three weeks ago captured the Deutsche Bank Championship after a run of solid play all summer. "Normally it's him who does it to everyone else, but it was kind of nice to throw a couple at him.

"We know he didn't have the best of days, and he's going to fight hard and try to come back into the tournament. It's still a long way to go, but it's always nice to perform the way I did when you're playing with the world's best player."

Woods, who has won five times this year and came into the tournament ranked first in the FedEx Cup standings, made his task this week quite difficult with such a poor round. He shot 3-over-par 73 and failed to make a birdie for just the seventh time as a pro on the PGA Tour.

Not only is he 9 strokes back, but Stenson and Adam Scott, who is third in the standings, are in position to win the Cup with a victory here.

Because Woods did not speak to the media, it is unclear if his back bothered him or if it was just a bad day. Woods did not play a practice round on Wednesday, nor did he hit balls, choosing only to chip and putt. Before leaving the course, he spent time in the fitness trailer, it was believed to be careful with his back.

His back bothered him last month at the Barclays and again Monday during the final round of the BMW Championship.

It was on that day outside Chicago when Stenson had other worries. He broke the head of his driver in anger and then later smashed his locker at Conway Farms, saying Thursday that he apologized to the staff and made arrangements to pay for the damage.

Apparently the long run of golf finally caught up with the Swede, who has climbed to sixth in the world after a stretch of five top-three finishes in seven tournaments.

"I just needed to realize the world is a good place again," said Stenson, who has been known over the years to have a bit of a temper. Asked how he could go from winning a tournament recently to being in such a bad mood, he quipped: "You don't have much experience with Swedes, do you?"

"I've always been a bit of a hothead. And it kind of builds up, and eventually it goes over the limit," Stenson said. "For me, it comes down to being tired. I played so much golf. I played so well, and I just haven't been able to get any rest.

"I was looking forward to that Monday back home and lying on the couch. The kids in school and me just doing nothing, and I ended up playing golf again [because Sunday's round at the BMW was suspended due to weather]. So I was tired and I pushed myself over the edge there.

"That's not the best place to be and not the best frame of mind to play good golf. I'm really delighted with the change I made today."

Adding to the challenge for Stenson, he is battling a sore left wrist which limited him to just nine holes of practice on Tuesday, although he had never before seen the East Lake course.

At this point in the season, fatigue is clearly an issue. Yes, it's golf, but the wear and tear of practice, travel and high competition adds up. For the top players, going back to the Open Championship in July, this is their seventh tournament in 10 weeks. Stenson also played the Scottish Open prior to the year's third major.

Unless you're Scott, the schedule can be a grind.

"If I tell you I'm feeling tired this year, you can slap me across the face," he said. "I've only played 14 tournaments or something. [This is his 16th this year.] I planned that with a reason. There's a lot to play for in these four weeks in the playoffs. You can't just wrap it up after the majors are over, and I wanted to be fresh and ready and I've tried to do the best I can to not stand here and say after an average weekend I'm burned out. There is no excuse."

Both Stenson and Scott have put themselves in a strong position to pursue the FedEx Cup $10 million bonus. Woods, not so much. Even for wealthy golfers, it is a lucrative motivator that ought to put fatigue on hold.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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