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Golf: Stenson out to perfect transatlantic juggling act

Henrik Stenson of Sweden tees off at the third hole during the first round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club Jan
Henrik Stenson of Sweden tees off at the third hole during the first round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club Jan

By Tony Jimenez

(Reuters) - Henrik Stenson is slowly returning to the sort of form that took him to fourth in the world in 2009 and believes he will compete regularly with golf's elite again as long as he can successfully juggle his membership of two tours.

The 36-year-old Swede has a hectic time honoring his commitment to the European Tour and the U.S. Tour where he secured a five-year exemption thanks to his victory at the 2009 Players Championship in Florida, the event dubbed golf's 'fifth major'.

Stenson, who now has his family base in Orlando, needed to rely on his States-side exemption in 2011 and 2012 after suffering a nightmare spell that eventually caused him to slump to 230th in the world.

He finally showed signs of getting back to his best in 2012, winning back a place in the top 125 in the U.S. before rounding off his campaign with a confidence-boosting victory at the South African Open in November.

"The crucial thing is to get some world ranking points, get back in the top 50 and back in the big events regularly," world number 52 Stenson told Reuters in an interview ahead of this week's Qatar Masters.

"That would also ease the schedule for me because I did a lot of travelling last year. Having the family in the States, I really don't want to have to play in all the lesser events," he said after finishing tied 23rd at last week's Abu Dhabi Championship.

"I need to be in a few more big ones to be a member of two tours otherwise I'll be struggling," said Stenson.

The bigger tournaments have the best international fields and if a player performs well in those he can compile additional world ranking points.

Stenson, who has won 10 times on the European Tour, said keeping up his commitment to play on both sides of the Atlantic was tricky.

"I've got another two years of exemption in the U.S. and the end of 2014 will determine what happens over there for me going forward," he explained.

"I played good enough to keep my card over there last year and that was nice because the previous two years I had to rely on my exemption...I like to feel that was a bit of a low watermark for me.

MONEY LISTS

"You at least want to be on the right side of the top 125 but it's always going to be hard for me unless I can get right up there playing fantastically again," said Stenson.

"If you're not playing fantastically you're going to be in the middle of both money lists because you're playing the minimum amount of tournaments on both circuits."

Stenson competed against players such as Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Justin Rose in Abu Dhabi and knows he has to keep improving his ranking in order to start qualifying for all four majors again and play against the best on a regular basis.

"I'm trying to measure myself against guys that play around 30 weeks on the U.S. Tour while I'm playing only 15 or 16," he said.

"Looking back on my career so far I've won a lot of good events around the world, been part of two winning Ryder Cup teams and won the World Cup four times but it's the majors that will be the icing on the cake.

"To win majors though you've got to be in them to start with."

One thing is guaranteed with the wisecracking Stenson: he always shoots from the hip.

The 36-year-old produced a bogey-free 67 on the final day in Abu Dhabi but said he "got away with murder".

"I hit seven shots at the par-five second hole but scrambled a par," he said with a big grin on his face. "I hit two provisional balls, one off the tee and another with the second shot.

"I hooked the first one left into the desert and managed to find the ball and played another big hook for the second and found sand again.

"I then got it up 40 yards short of the green, pitched it up to a foot and holed my putt. My partner hit it down the middle twice, wedged it up to 20 feet, rammed that past the hole and suddenly he's got a five-footer for par and I've got a tap-in.

"This is a crazy game at times. I played better on the back nine than I did on the front for sure but it was all a bit wishy washy."

Stenson, who ended a five-year European Tour victory drought by winning in South Africa, said his game remained a work in progress.

"When I'm playing good I definitely feel I'm up there with the best," he added. "I've beaten the world's best on a number of occasions and it's a question of getting all the pieces back together again and moving up the rankings.

"It doesn't matter whether it's quickly or slowly as long as I feel I'm heading in the right direction."

(Editing by Clare Fallon)

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