Commentary

Playoffs a payoff for Henrik Stenson

Updated: September 22, 2013, 9:33 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- Shooting the lowest score is the main thing, so you can be sure that Henrik Stenson very much wanted both trophies Sunday at the Tour Championship -- even though he could have lost the tournament and still gone home with a $10 million bonus.

Life is pretty good, isn't it, when you can walk away with that kind of consolation prize? Stenson made sure that awkwardness didn't enter in the FedEx Cup scenario at East Lake Golf Club, holding off a late charge from Jordan Spieth and Steve Stricker to capture the season-ending tournament.

Points permutations and mathematical madness are part of the FedEx Cup, and there were a few scenarios that would have made for a strange 18th green ceremony.

But for the fourth straight year, the PGA Tour crowned one man its champion of the tournament and the points bonanza. For Stenson, it capped a comeback of immense proportions.

Just 18 months ago, the hard-hitting Swede was ranked 230th in the world. He was exempt on the PGA Tour due to his victory at the Players Championship in 2009, the year his life and game began to unravel. He didn't have a single top-10 finish in 2011 and 2012 saw him post just one.

A year ago at this time, he had qualified for just one FedEx playoff event and was still outside the top 100 in the world.

Today he is the FedEx Cup champion after winning the Tour Championship as well as the Deutsche Bank Championship earlier this month.

"I think it says that I never give up," said Stenson, who is now fourth in the world. "I went from way, way back down in 2001 and got back up to No. 4. So I'm obviously touching my personal best there.

"It's been a great summer, way beyond what I could imagine. Since mid-July has been incredible. But obviously the work that I'd done before … it wasn't like you wake up in the middle of July and start playing fantastic. I put the work in in the spring."

Stenson shot a final-round 68 to win by three on Sunday. There are many who will say the money at stake here is obscene. Each of the four playoff events came with an $8 million purse. That means Stenson received $1.44 million for winning the Tour Championship (as well as for his victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship). He also takes the $10 million bonus for winning the FedEx Cup, $1 million of which goes into a tax-deferred retirement account -- not that anybody is concerned with that.

He has been on an amazing run of late, but there had been steady progress earlier, as he slowly climbed in the rankings after a victory late in 2012 in South Africa. But nothing foretold the stretch of golf he would produce over the past two months.

Starting with the Scottish Open in July, Stenson's results read as follows: T-3, 2, T-2, 3, T-43, 1, T-33, 1. That's six top-three finishes, including two victories, in eight events. Stenson was runner-up at the Open Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, third at the PGA Championship, then won two of the four playoff events.

Stricker said he'd consider Stenson along with Tiger Woods for the PGA Tour's player of the year, and the notion has some merit. It was a great run, at a perfect time, and if the tour still gave out a comeback player of the year honor, Stenson gets it with ease.

"It's very rare when a player doesn't go through some sort of struggles," said Stricker, who shot 65 to finish tied for second and ended up third in the FedEx Cup standings as a part-time player in 2013. "The careers out here last pretty long sometimes, and it's hard to maintain top form all the time.

"Henrik had a little blip on his screen there for a while, much like everybody. It's nice to see that he's put in the work and the energy and the time to get it back and to reach really the ultimate thing in our sport, to win the FedEx Cup. I can relate. A lot of players can relate to where he was and where he is today. It's a pretty amazing journey."

Although he didn't win as often as Tiger Woods (five victories) in 2013, Stenson's victories came during the playoff run. Woods led the FedEx Cup standings since March, was passed briefly by Stenson after he won the Deutsche Bank Championship, and then Woods led again going into the Tour Championship.

But Stenson won and Woods finished tied for 22nd at East Lake. Stenson had two victories, a tie for 43rd and a tie for 33rd while Woods was second, tied for 65th, tied for 11th and tied for 22nd.

"He's played incredible," Woods said. "From basically the British Open on, he's basically put it together, and he's played so consistently, while at a high level. He's hit it great, made his share of putts, but he's just been so consistent. It's good to see. He's a good guy, we all like him, and it's good to see."

Although it is a story Stenson is reluctant to discuss in much detail, most in the game are aware of the financial hit he and many others took a few years ago due to the Stanford Financial collapse. Stenson had invested a significant sum of money -- believed to be several million dollars -- in 2008, only to learn that most of those involved had been swindled by Allen Stanford, who ran the company.

The unraveling of the reported pyramid scheme began around the same time that Stenson went into his slump in 2009, and he had reluctantly admitted that it played a role in his struggles.

Of course, Stenson also made sure to point out that others were hurt far worse than him; and he has the ability to make plenty playing golf, as the $11.44 million payday on Sunday will attest. "I'm not struggling by any means," he said.

Still, if it's possible to root for someone who has the ability to make millions, Stenson is the guy.

And there is more to be earned. Stenson leads the European Tour's Race to Dubai and will resume that quest next month with a couple of tournaments in China followed by the season-ending event in Dubai.

For now, he will enjoy himself. Since July, Stenson has made more than $15 million, including the FedEx bonus. And Stanford is serving a lifetime prison sentence.

You have to wonder if that thought brings a smile to Stenson's face.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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