Good Guy Stenson Cruises in Boston

By: Rob Duca

Henrik Stenson made it look easy. All those supposed challengers who were chasing after him did nothing to make the tall Swede sweat. As for drama, maybe there'll be some in two weeks at the BMW Championship.

In a Deutsche Bank Championship that saw Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott become bit players, it was Stenson who strolled to victory and in the process vaulted past Woods to the top of the FedEx Cup playoff standings.

Stenson, ranked 230th in the world not that long ago, was steady all day, with his chief nemesis being two long rain delays that threatened to push the tournament finish to Tuesday. He closed with a 66 that almost felt pedestrian, winding up two strokes ahead of Steve Stricker.

This was a long day of raindrops and little drama. Stenson held the lead for the entire back nine, and no one applied any heat.

Third-round leader Sergio Garcia seemed to begin gasping for air from the moment he pulled into the TPC Boston parking lot. He led by two entering the day, but was out of it from the moment he blocked a 3-wood into the trees on the fourth hole en route to shooting 73.

Stricker had his chances, but couldn't make the crucial putts that might have caused Stenson to wobble. The only potential excitement took place when Stenson landed in a greenside bunker on the 17th hole at the precise moment that Stricker was lining up an eagle putt at the 18th. Stenson hadn't stepped into sand all week, so naturally he holed the shot.

End of drama. End of tournament.

That Stenson won the Deutsche Bank should not have come as a surprise. There hasn't been a more consistent player on tour this summer. He was second at the British Open and the WGC-Bridgestone, and third at the PGA Championship. He has been knocking on the door for two months.

"I came to a point where I looked at all the aspects of my game and decided this is what I'm doing, instead of for this week, this is where we're going to be in two months. And that got me going," he said. "I think mentally I've been as good as I've ever been throughout this summer, and that kind of started in my preparations for the U.S. Open.

"You've got to be able to take the hits there and keep on going. I did that that pretty good [that week]. But I knew I could be better. And I jumped up a notch in that department. And just kept at it all summer. And that's the big reason why I've been able to have so many good weeks in big tournaments."

The 37-year-old has absorbed plenty of body blows in his pro career. That he has become the hottest player around is a bit shocking, considering where he's been. He has survived two crash-and-burns in his rollercoaster career, the first dip coming in 2002 and another after capturing the Players in 2009. He was ranked fourth in the world in '09, and the tumble from that lofty perch coincided with him losing millions in the Stanford Group Ponzi scheme.

He called his slump in '02 the more frustrating, saying he was "lost and confused with my game, with my swing, with everything."

But he never questioned his ability to turn things around.

"I mean, 2011 was a really poor season, by any standards. And I started coming back the beginning of last year," he said. "At the end of last year I got my first win in 3 and a half years by winning the South African Open Championship . . . From then on it's been steady progress, and a couple of fantastic months. And this obviously is the icing on the cake. I was longing for a win and I got it."

Stenson is known as a practical joker. He once jolted other players on the European Tour by asking them to sign autographs with a low-voltage pen. He has expressive, saucer-shaped eyes, an impish smile and a carefree attitude. He rode with his wife Emma, and their two young children in a golf cart from the seventh green to the eighth tee on Sunday, the group looking for all the world like a family headed to a picnic instead of a career-changing moment.

Even with legendary nice guy Stricker nipping at his heels, Stenson was easy to root for. Said Emma, who played collegiate golf at South Carolina, "He's a good guy. That's why I married him."

Asked the key to avoiding another slump, he said, "Don't burn yourself out. It's been long, hard work getting back to this place. And playing as well as I've done in these last couple of months, there's no magic, no quick fix. It's just hard work."

And how long does he expect this form to last?

"Forever and ever, of course," he said.

Cue the mischievous grin.

Rob Duca is an award-winning sports columnist who wrote for the Cape Cod Times for 25 years, covering golf, the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Celtics and the Boston Bruins. He is now managing editor of Golf & Leisure Cape Cod magazine and has written for a variety of other publications, including Sports Illustrated, the Boston Globe, Yankee magazine and Cape Cod Life.