Stenson delivers another match-play memory

February 26, 2007

MARANA, Ariz.(AP) The longest week of his career was behind him. The blue World Golf Championship trophy was at his side. Henrik Stenson soaked it all in by slowly lowering his head on the table and closing his eyes.

“I’m too tired to be happy,” he said.

He played 120 holes in five days in the Accenture Match Play Championship, the last 35 on Sunday against Geoff Ogilvy in the final that featured five lead changes and countless mood shifts until Stenson made back-to-back birdies for a 2-and-1 victory .

Stenson will go to No. 5 in the world, taking his place among the elite, the highest ranking ever by a Swede. He earned $1.35 million to move atop the PGA European Tour Order of Merit. The last time he felt such a rush of excitement and exhaustion was five months ago when he earned the winning point for Europe in the Ryder Cup.

That was for the flag. This was for himself.

In a slugfest that came down to survival, Stenson played mistake-free over the final 10 holes and made four birdies to surge past the U.S. Open champion and become only the second European to win this most unpredictable tournament.

“I was struggling big time with my game,” Stenson said. “Somehow, I managed to fight my way through the round and not let Geoff run away with it.”

Trying to win his 12th straight match, Ogilvy had a 2-up lead with 10 holes to play until he lost momentum with a three-putt bogey, lost the lead with another and couldn’t stop a sensational finish by Stenson.

Stenson hit 8-iron into 2 feet on the par-3 16th, and when Ogilvy missed his 6-foot birdie, the Swede went 2-up to the par-5 17th. He reached the green in two on the 600-yard hole and lagged his 60-foot putt so close that Ogilvy conceded.

“That’s just the way it goes,” said Ogilvy, who earned $800,000. “He wasn’t at his best, either, but he got it done when he needed to.”

It was a grind for both of them, a long day that began with Stenson tugging a knit cap over his ears in the frosty morning, and ended with the Swede in short sleeves posing with the biggest trophy of his career.

Stenson won for the second time this month, both times in the desert – at the Dubai Desert Classic three weeks ago, and in the high desert north of Tucson where he didn’t have his best golf, but it was good enough.

“Every day, every round just wears you down a little bit,” Stenson said. “In the end, you’ve got nothing left in the tank. And still, I managed to find some on the back nine today.”

Stenson had a 2-up lead after the morning round, then found himself 2-down with 10 holes to play. But he won three of the next four holes, twice with help from the 29-year-old Australian. Having won back-to-back holes, Ogilvy three-putted the ninth from 60 feet, missing a 4-footer for par to lose the hole. On the 11th, he flew the green with a wedge and made bogey to square the match.

“Things were going my way,” Ogilvy said. “It was a ridiculous gift to three-putt the ninth. I can’t even begin to describe how stupid that was. I didn’t do it on purpose.”

Stenson became only the second European to win the Accenture Match Play Championship, joining Darren Clarke, who won in 2000.

The key for Stenson turned out to be the 334-yard 12th. He bladed a sand wedge to roll in a 25-foot birdie in the morning for a 1-up lead, then blasted out to 6 feet for birdie in the afternoon to take the lead again.

This time, Stenson didn’t lose it.

As badly as Ogilvy faded on the closing holes, he showed why has done so well in this format. The 29-year-old Aussie flew the green on the 13th, only to make a 12-foot par putt to halve the hole. Ogilvy short-sided himself in the bunker on the par-3 14th and blasted out 18 feet by the hole, but again made par to save within one.

Stenson gave him a thumbs-up sign walking off the green, then buried him two holes later with the 8-iron that plopped down next to the hole and sent him to victory.

In the 18-hole consolation match, Trevor Immelman began the back nine with three straight birdies and won, 4 and 2, over Chad Campbell to claim third place and $575,000. Campbell earned $475,000.

The tournament put a cap on 7,500 tickets for the final round, although only about half that many fans chased after Stenson and Ogilvy in the afternoon sunshine at The Gallery, when neither played led by two the entire match.

The tone of this topsy-turvy match was set in the chilly sunrise hour about Tucson.

Stenson won the first two holes by hitting his 226-yard approach into the par-5 first to 10 feet for eagle, and sticking a wedge to 5 feet on the next hole for a birdie that Ogilvy conceded.

The Aussie fired back by winning the next four holes, no shot more spectacular than his 3-wood from 296 yards with the wind at his back that rolled a yard past the cup. He completed his four-hole streak with a wedge that one-hopped off the flag at No. 6 and rolled back 8 feet away for another birdie.

The first time they halved a hole was with pars on the par-3 eighth.

Stenson regained the lead on the 12th hole in the morning, which proved pivotal. He had a tight angle to the flag over a bunker, and it spun back against the collar. Using the blade of his sand wedge, Stenson rolled in a birdie from 25 feet for a 1-up lead when Ogilvy pulled his 5-footer to halve the hole.

More momentum swings followed in the afternoon, but not from good golf.

Each player won three holes with only a par, a sloppy match that ended with two spectacular shots by Stenson.

It was a different feeling from the Ryder Cup, where Europe won by such a large margin any player could have won the winning point.

“Both experiences are ones that I cherish very much,” he said.