One by one those players tried to emulate his morning feat but none could better the six under par 65 he shot in the torrential rain. That took him into second place, one shot behind Phil Mickelson and one ahead of fellow Scandinavian Soren Kjeldsen.
Sharp and amusing in his interactions, Stenson did not look like a man struggling to cope with the fact that he could be in contention for his first Open victory come tomorrow evening, or his desperation to finally break into the elite band of major winners.
The winner at Muirfield in 2013, after many years of trying, Mickelson, who pipped the Swede that year, had already claimed that the desire to capture a first Claret Jug can pile pressure on players.
“Well, he’s one ahead,” responded the 40-year-old, referring to Open titles, not just strokes in this year’s jamboree. “That’s an advantage. And what does he have? Five majors? It’s always harder to push the first one over the line, I would imagine, than the fifth one. But still a long way to go.”
Unlike the women’s game, where the likes of Annika Sorenstam set a high bar, there has never been a Nordic male winner of any of golf’s majors but there have been near misses, with this event throwing up more than a few examples. It was at Royal Troon in 1997 when Jesper Parnevik came so close. That probably stokes Stenson’s caution as much as anything. Back then, the quirky Swede had been five shots ahead going into the final round but conspired with Justin Leonard to send the honours Stateside.
While the young American revelled in a birdie fest, charging home in 65, the overnight leader crumpled. Still two ahead with seven to play he bogeyed three of them and also missed a short birdie putt. It was a painful capitulation and a more devastating blow than the one dealt by Nick Price, who bettered him three years later at Turnberry.
Stenson too has had his opportunities. He came third in 2008 and 2010 before he had to settle for that second place behind Mickelson. But as the rain lashed down and others faltered yesterday, it was the Scandinavians who put up the sternest challenge.
“These conditions is what I grew up in as well. So I’m certainly used to playing in bad weather. You don’t stay inside because you would miss too many days. So I like playing this kind of golf. I like the battling mentality that you need to play. I do thrive in this,” said Kjeldsen, who also seemed to have no qualms about stepping up to take the accolade of champion golfer, should the opening present itself tomorrow. He said he was used to over-achieving.
“I’m married to Charlotte; I think I’ve over-achieved there as well,” he said to the amusement of the media. “I think you can’t get caught up in all that. We all have limitations, but the whole thing is about pushing, trying to see how good you can get and nobody’s going to stop me in that.”
He had shot a 68 and was sure that others were capable of beating that. What he couldn’t have envisaged is that only Stenson would make it count for something. On a day when the rain and the wind and, more often than not, the combination of both rattled even the world’s best, these two Scandinavians wrestled the hardships and still came in smiling and in entertaining mood, showing the kind of joy for the game and the unflustered temperament few of their peers could emulate as it all became a little too much for most.
“I’m always having good vibes,” said Stenson. “Yeah, as I said, my goal was to put myself in contention. I’ve done that halfway through. I haven’t been in contention for the last six majors and that was a big, big goal of mine to try and be up there and give myself a chance. So far, so good.”
After six American winners on the bounce at Royal Troon, what does he think about the rise of the Nordic massive yesterday?
“Sweden and Denmark in particular have produced a lot of good players on Tour for as long as I can remember. So, I guess it’s only natural to see a few Scandinavians up there,” he said. “We’ve got Swedish House Mafia, so we might have another powerhouse on the way. We’ll see!”