Open champion Henrik Stenson walks tall on return to Ayrshire

Henrik Stenson takes part in the left handed challenge on the 11th hole during the AAM Scottish Open pro am.  Picture: Tony Marshall/Getty Images
Henrik Stenson takes part in the left handed challenge on the 11th hole during the AAM Scottish Open pro am. Picture: Tony Marshall/Getty Images
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The big man is back in town. Well, close enough for Henrik Stenson to feel some good vibes. This week’s Scottish Open, after all, is being held just a few miles up the Ayrshire coast from Troon, where the Swede became Open champion a year ago.

”To be back here on a beautiful day, it’s easy to remember last summer and what we managed to accomplish a little bit down the road there,” said Stenson, speaking at Dundonald Links as he prepared for the Aberdeen Asset Management-sponsored event, his final assignment as the 2016 Champion Golfer of the Year.

By his own admission, the 41-year-old hasn’t been firing on all cylinders since becoming the first Scandinavian to win a men’s major, but just being back in this neck of the woods is making him feel a bit more positive about his Claret Jug defence at Birkdale next week – and no wonder.

Stenson, after all, produced one of the best performances the game has witnessed in recent times at Royal Troon, closing with a 63 for a record 20-under total as he won a titanic tussle with 2013 champion Phil Mickelson. “It was great to be back as all the memories keep coming back to you,” he said of a visit he made earlier in the year to do some filming for this season’s event.

Stenson, who has the 2-iron he used so effectively 
12 months ago back in his bag for the next two weeks, said he feels that he is heading into this Scottish Open walking taller than he did when tying for 13th behind compatriot Alex Noren at Castle Stuart last year. “You probably feel like you’re a quarter of an inch taller in the locker-room as a result of being a major champion,” he said.

“But, at the same time, the golf ball doesn’t know what happened last year. You have to tell it every time you’re playing. That’s what I need to focus on this week and next week to go out there and do my best and do all the right things. If I want to play with the best, I’ve got to bring my best. You can’t live on what’s been in the past.”

The European No 1, who got his first look at the Dundon-ald course in the pro-am, won’t get the chance to go head-to-head with Mickelson again this weekend as the American is skipping the event, apparently because he didn’t want to have to learn a fourth course in quick succession.

“I can see where he’s coming from out of a convenience standpoint, but, at the same time, I understand why you want to move it around and give people a chance to come watch us play at different venues and different parts of Scotland. Luckily for me, I’m not the one deciding these matters,” said Stenson.