Henrik Stenson was famous for reasons he never imagined.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Henrik Stenson was famous for reasons he never imagined.
Two months ago, he was best known as the Swede who stripped down to nothing but his underwear and a golf glove while playing from a water hazard at Doral. Out of curiosity, he searched the Internet and found 143 articles, more news than he ever got for his game.
"I guess I got as much attention off that thing as from my results the last 10 years," he said.
His golf was all the rage Sunday at The Players Championship.
With a final round that was close to perfect, Stenson was the only player to keep bogeys off his card on his way to a 6-under 66 that gave him a four-shot victory, the 10th of his career and by far his biggest.
"This is obviously going to be the latest thing on the resume," Stenson said.
Trailing by five shots on the treacherous TPC Sawgrass, he took advantage of a swift and shocking collapse by Alex Cejka, never had to worry about Tiger Woods and blew away everyone else in firm, fast conditions rarely seen this side of a major.
"I was thinking this that if I could finish in front of Tiger, that might be good enough," said Ian Poulter, who shot a 70 and to finish second. "But I wasn't expecting someone to go out there and shoot 66."
The sun-baked gallery was curious how Cejka would fare with a five-shot lead playing in the final group with Woods. Four holes and a little more than an hour into the final round, the lead was gone. Cejka shot 42 on the front and wound up with a 79.
Focus quickly shifted to Woods, and whether he could rally to win from five shots behind as he did at Bay Hill. But not this time. Woods missed three fairways that led to bogeys on the front nine, and trailed by as many as eight shots on the back nine.
"When you're playing a golf course like this and you don't have it, and the greens are this fast and this hard, you can shoot some pretty high numbers," he said.
Woods managed a 73 to finish eighth, his first top 10 at The Players Championship since he won in 2001, and his 16th consecutive top 10 in stroke-play events worldwide.
Stenson played so well that he had a four-shot leading standing on the 17th tee, his only mission to make sure it found grass beneath it. He kept his bogey-free round in tact to the end, walking off the green with his daughter in his arms.
"It's just going to give me a lot of confidence to go out there and control myself and play as well as I did on the last day at TPC Sawgrass and to hold off such a strong field," he said. "It's just going to give me a lot of confidence going into the majors. Obviously, if I can play as well as I did today, I surely can do it on a Sunday at the majors."
Stenson finished at 12-under 276 and earned $1.71 million for a victory that moves him to No. 5 in the world ranking.
John Mallinger (70) and Kevin Na (70) tied for third. They were among a dozen players who had hopes of winning on the back nine, one of the most unpredictable stretches in golf.
Stenson, a Swede who shows little emotion even when playing in his skivvies, never gave anyone much hope. His 66 matched the best score of the final round — Aaron Baddeley also had a 66 with the first tee time of the day — and was nearly 7.5 strokes better than the field average.
Stenson missed only one fairway.
The only times he came remotely close to a bogey, he holed par putts of 8 feet on the front nine.
Stenson rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt from just short of the seventh green and joined a four-way tie atop the leaderboard that included Poulter, Ben Crane and Retief Goosen. Stenson took the outright lead with a two-putt birdie from 55 feet on the fringe at the ninth.
It was over a short time later.
Stenson hammered a tee shot — the only time he hit driver in the final round — on the par-5 11th, hit 4-iron to a front bunker and blasted out to 6 feet for birdie. He took aim at the flag on the par-3 13th for a 10-footer, then seized control for good after watching Poulter celebrate a birdie on the 15th to pull within two shots.
Stenson hit wedge to 21/2; feet to match him, then reached the par-5 16th in two for another birdie. And once his ball found the island green at No. 17, he could relax.
"I could afford to go bogey-bogey and still win it," Stenson said. "That's always a handy situation to be in."
Stenson's other U.S. victory came at the Accenture Match Play Championship two years ago against the top 64 players in the world. He also won in Dubai, finishing two shots ahead of Woods. The Players has the strongest and deepest field in golf.
"It just seems to bring the best out of me when I have to, playing the best players," Stenson said. "And obviously, now I feel like I'm up there where I belong when I'm playing good."