Our countdown of the top 25 stories that defined this year in golf continues with resurgent Swede Henrik Stenson, whose season would be a career year for just about any golfer on the planet not named Tiger or Phil.
23. Henrik Stenson's career year all across the globe
Stenson has always been touted as one of the most talented players in the world, but less than two years ago it appeared his career might be over. Stenson rose all the way to No. 5 in the world after winning the 2009 Players Championship, considered the game's fifth major. The Swede was also always on the first page of the leaderboard at the majors, a Ryder Cupper, and an inevitable major winner.
And then it was all gone. Stenson lost his game, dropped out of the top 225 players in the world, and at one point was reduced to playing his local club championship back home with some regular weekend hackers while his peers played at the 2011 PGA Championship. A WGC Match Play title, that Players win, and majors contention shot him up the rankings in rapid fashion but the sudden collapse was much more startling. Stenson could not make a cut, and there didn't really appear to be a pathway forward to him regaining his form.
Even if that interlude in the wilderness off the map had never occurred, no one could have seen these last six months coming. Stenson has been the most consistent, best player in the world this season, which he emphatically capped with both PGA Tour and Euro Tour playoff titles.
While dual money titles have been achieved before, Stenson became the first player ever to win the American tour's FedExCup and the Euro Tour's Race to Dubai. Before those postseason successes, however, Stenson's form had clearly returned and he had become one of the world's best players again early in the summer. He hung around at Augusta National after a second-place finish at the Houston Open, made another push at the Players for a T5, and then went to the wire in the season's final two majors.
Stenson was a fixture at the very top of the leaderboard since mid-July, finishing runner-up to Phil at the Open and Tiger at Firestone, and then starting Sunday at Oak Hill as many experts' pick to win the PGA. He settled for a third place finish behind Jason Dufner, but there was still plenty of season left even though the majors had passed.
The close calls became wins real fast as the calendar flipped to September, and suddenly Stenson was walking away with trophies alongside the barrels of cash. He finally got that first PGA Tour win since his game had left him in 2011, cruising to the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston. In the intervening tournament in Chicago, Stenson's old habits and temper flared a bit when he smashed his driver and then destroyed a locker in the Conway Farms clubhouse.
He has a history of losing his temper, and the worry was that all his work over the second half of the summer would come undone heading into the TOUR Championship at East Lake.
But thanks to his win in Boston, Stenson was one of the five players in that crucial "control your own destiny" category for the FedExCup finale. A win at East Lake would mean an automatic playoffs title and a huge $10 million check. Against the season's most exclusive field, Stenson ran away with it, ensuring that the others in that automatic-five, including Tiger Woods, never had any hope by Sunday. It was his second win in three events, and the career resurrection was complete.
Stenson's talent is so overwhelming that he wouldn't stop at the end of the PGA Tour's season, instead adding the Euro title in Dubai this month to capture that tour's order of merit honor. He's now No. 3 in the world, playing better than anyone and right on the heels of No. 2 Adam Scott. Stenson has replaced our No. 25 nominee in this countdown, Rory McIlroy, as Europe's most dangerous player and best threat for a major title.
It was a remarkable year, probably as good a non-major winning season a player can post. The finish will be hard to replicate by anyone going forward. So now that Stenson is firmly reestablished as top player, what's next? It's hard to envision a scenario where he's not in it down the stretch at most of the majors next year. Augusta suits his game and he'll be one of the favorites at the Masters. But regardless of the results next year, his 2013 finish is one that will be remembered for a long time and inarguably one of the top 25 stories that defined the year in golf.