The Open: Stenson not dreaming of glory just yet

Henrik Stenson chips out of a bunker and onto the fifth green during his second round. Picture: Reuters
Henrik Stenson chips out of a bunker and onto the fifth green during his second round. Picture: Reuters
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If a Scot can win Wimbledon where once Swedes from Borg to Edberg to Willander to Jarryd dominated, then so must it be written that a Scandinavian is destined one day to capture an Open Championship. And maybe even in the game’s homeland this weekend.

Andy Murray may have been closing in on his Holy Grail with this year’s tennis victory following on from a final appearance which was preceded by three semis.

However, that record is challenged by golf’s Nordic hordes, who have achieved three runner-ups, two third-place finishes and a fourth in the current millennium alone when chasing the Claret Jug.

Could a breakthrough be about to occur at Muirfield tomorrow?

Main hopes for getting the polar bear – okay, reindeer – off the back lie with Henrik Stenson, a 37-year-old Swede.

Nicely positioned at two under par going into today’s third round, Stenson has already set landmarks.

He’s been higher than any Swede in world rankings – four – and won both the Accenture World Match Play title and the Players Championship, widely regarded as the “fifth” Major.

And, oh yes, two of those aforementioned third-place finishes in the Open have been his – in 2008 and 2010.

One other thing to note about Stenson: he gives lie to the common belief that somehow Scandinavians have had a humour bypass.

Reminded that no Scandinavian had won any Major and asked, therefore, if that ever came into his thought process, the man from Gothenburg paused then revealed a nice line in irony. “All the time. That’s all I’m thinking, no-one’s won it, no-one’s won it.”

It was said with a twinkle in the eye for Stenson impresses as a self-effacing sort.

“Obviously, I would like to be the first Swede or Scandinavian to win a Major. We’ve got some work to do before we talk about that.

“I’d rather talk about how that feels on Sunday if it happens.”

Maybe it was his five birdies or possibly the continuing good weather or conceivably Malmo’s 2-0 win over Hibs but, if Henrik was unwilling to tempt fate, his sense of fun wasn’t being cast aside.

Asked if golf was now superceding tennis in Sweden he replied: “The tennis players have never been as pretty and good as we are . . I’m sure they’ll come back. It goes in cycles. Everything.”

From that remark, it follows that if the Scandinavians keep putting themselves in contention then eventually the dice will fall in their favour.

However, Stenson believes that to win on a course as tough as Muirfield means on balance playing conservatively yet knowing when to grab the chance to attack.

Acknowledging that ‘carpe diem’ could be key this weekend he said: “You’ve got to hit the good shots when you have the opportunity.

“The more conservatively you play obviously the more you’ve got to make up with the short stick on the greens. It’s hard to make birdies from 30 feet. So, you’ve still got to knock a few, you know, within 10 or 15 feet and roll those in.

“That’s the balance always. That thin line.

“Sometimes certain shots set up nicely . . and maybe at the right time you’ve got to press on and sometimes you’ve got to hold off.”

This approach was exemplified at the 379-yard 12th hole yesterday.

After considering a driver, Stenson backed off and hit 7-iron followed by sand wedge in taking a par four.

“You could end up in some funky places with a driver and a four is never going to hurt you.

“Sometimes you want to make something happen but it can backfire as well.”

On that occasion, pragmatism prevailed but Opens are rarely won without reaching out and grabbing.

The message is that whoever consistently chooses the correct option for the situation will be king and there is nothing untoward about Stenson’s ball-striking at the moment to set up opportunities.

On one hole, he struck a five iron 300 yards or, as he put it amidst gales of laughter in recognising the bizarre run being afforded by the baked hard fairways, “just an average 5-iron.”

Ball striking, a relaxed attitude and a carefully devised game-plan. By tomorrow, we could find out if Swede dreams and made of this.