MARANA, Ariz.(AP) Henrik Stenson was so exhausted he could barely celebrate the biggest win of his career.
The lead changed hands five times during the frost of morning and warmth of afternoon, first through brilliant birdies and eagles, later because of three-putt bogeys when fatigue caused lapses in concentration.
Only when Stenson’s 60-foot eagle putt trickled to tap-in range at the 35th hole could he relax.
“That felt pretty good,” Stenson.
His week at the Accenture Match Play Championship was far better than that.
The 30-year-old Swede survived 120 holes over five days, and wild swings in momentum and mood in the 36-hole title match Sunday against defending champion Geoff Ogilvy.
Stenson trailed by two with 10 holes left when he found whatever he had left in reserve, playing mistake-free golf and finding four birdies that carried him to a 2-and-1 victory, making him the first Swede to win a World Golf Championship.
He moved up to No. 5 in the world ranking, joining the elite in golf, the highest position ever by a Swede.
His reaction upon hearing all this was to slowly lower his head on the table and close his eyes.
“I’m just exhausted,” he said. “It probably hasn’t even sunk in 100 percent yet. It’s everything – playing, I don’t know how many rounds, seven rounds in five days? My feet are aching, head is aching.”
Then he paused ever so slightly, allowing his dry humor to come out.
“Wallet is aching,” he said of the $1.35 million that puts him atop the European Tour Order of Merit.
Ogilvy hurt for other reasons. He was trying to join Tiger Woods as the only player to win this unpredictable tournament in consecutive years, and it looked as though the 29-year-old Aussie would win his 12th straight match over two years.
He had gone 12 holes without a birdie and was 2 down going to the afternoon round when he birdied the first hole and squared the match when Stenson three-putted the second. Ogilvy took a 1-up lead by driving the green on the par-4 seventh and two-putting from 65 feet, and he made it 2 up when Stenson three-putted again, this time from 30 feet on the eighth.
“Things were going my way,” Ogilvy said. “He probably wasn’t feeling too great walking down to the ninth hole.”
Everything changed with one mistake.
Ogilvy came up well short on the ninth, and three-putted from about 60 feet, missing a 4-footer for par.
“It’s just a ridiculous gift to three-putt the ninth hole,” Ogilvy said. “I can’t even describe how stupid it is. When you’ve got momentum on your side and you just hand it straight back to him, it was just not a very smart thing to do.”
The 11th hole wasn’t much better. With a wedge in hand, he hit over the green and did well to chip 15 feet by the hole, missing that par putt to square the match.
The key for Stenson turned out to be the 334-yard 12th hole in the morning and afternoon.
He used the blade of his sand wedge to roll in a 25-foot birdie putt that gave him a 1-up lead in the morning, and it took Ogilvy 13 holes to get the lead back. In the afternoon round, Stenson blasted out of a bunker to 6 feet for birdie to take the lead again.
This time, he didn’t lose it.
Even in defeat, Ogilvy showed why he has done so well in this format. He flew the green on the 13th, only to make a 12-foot par putt to halve the hole and stay 1 down. On the par-3 14th, Ogilvy short-sided himself in the bunker, blasted out to 18 feet and again made a clutch par putt to halve the hole.
Stenson was impressed. He looked back at Ogilvy and smiled, giving him a thumbs-up sign.
Two holes later, he buried him.
With a 1-up lead playing the par-3 16th, Stenson hit a towering 8-iron that plopped down 2 feet next to the hole. Ogilvy hit the same club to 6 feet, but his birdie putt veered to the left. That gave Stenson a 2-up lead playing the 600-yard 17th, where the Swede’s length gave him a big advantage. He needed only two putts from 60 feet to win, and he nestled the eagle putt close.
“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.”
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 victory gave Stenson a new match-play memory.
Until Sunday, he was best known as the tall Swede who holed the winning putt for Europe at the Ryder Cup. Stenson says that moment was a little overrated because Europe was beating the Americans so badly that anyone could have made that putt.
Besides, that was for the flag. This was for himself.
“Both experiences are ones that I cherish,” he said.