Henrik Stenson: Win for Europe at Troon will boost Ryder bid

Looking at certain statistics, the likes of Henrik Stenson would be as well not teeing off at Royal Troon. Reading some of the preamble it would seem that the USA has long since laid claim to this course.

Henrik Stenson hits his tee shot at the second hole during the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. Picture: SNS Group
Henrik Stenson hits his tee shot at the second hole during the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. Picture: SNS Group

In the past 65 years only Americans have enjoyed Open success here. There have been six stagings in that period, with Arnold Palmer (1962), Tom Weiskopf (1973), Tom Watson (1982), Mark 
Calcavecchia (1989), Justin Leonard (1997), and Todd Hamilton (2004), all standing out from the pack.

But, in a year when the rivalry between Europe and the men from the other side of the pond is stoked, with the Ryder Cup again up for grabs, 
Stenson considers it the perfect time for that dominance to be halted.

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With honours even after the first two majors of the year, with Danny Willett claiming the Green Jacket in Augusta and Dustin Johnson flying the flag for the States at the US Open, seeing off Shane Lowry and Sergio Garcia, what happens this week, and then at the USPGA at the end of the month, will determine which team head to Hazeltine, in September with the momentum.

“Potentially it might be a little bit of an advantage if we were to have a lot of European major champions in the Ryder Cup year,” said Stenson. “Certainly those players would come into the Ryder Cup with a little bit more confidence. And it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the European team, of course.”

The Swede has played in three previous Ryder Cups, winning twice, and was paired with Justin Rose at Gleneagles in 2014 as they broke records in the fourballs, beating Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson 3&2 with a record 12 birdies in the space of 16 holes and racked up 21 birdies collectively, the most birdies ever in a match. But, as an incentive for winning The Open, ensuring Europe have the edge ahead of the Ryder Cup isn’t top of the list for the Swede who made his Open debut the year after the last outing at Troon. “I think any player wants to win, of course, and the Europeans want to win as badly as the Americans, whether it be a Ryder Cup year or not,” he added.

Asked why he thought the Americans have been so dominant on the Ayrshire links, as a debutant, he had little to offer other than conjecture. But he took heart from the fact that whatever it is that appeals, should suit him too. “I play a lot of golf in America, so that’s good,” he said with a smile.

But that’s the thing about statistics, root around long enough and there will always be one to offer encouragement so, while he may not have a US passport, the 40-year-old does have a date of birth that suggests he is in with a shout of fending off the 52 Americans in this year’s field. Seven of the last nine Open champions were 35 or older – four of the last five have been 39 or older.

And the man who already has four top-four finishes in The Open under his belt is coming into the tournament in confident mood. Bolstered by victory at the BMW International Open and a decent showing at the Scottish Open last week, he said conditions at Castle Stuart also served as the ideal warm-up.

“It was pretty brutal on that Thursday afternoon but it’s something that we can encounter out here throughout the week as well,” he said. “So, in that sense, I guess we’ve had a pretty good rehearsal, and it’s always good to play the week before on links.”

Royal Troon is one of the last courses to be added to his professional resume and he had taken time out ahead of the trip to Inverness to introduce himself to the Postage Stamp and the Troon course.

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Many have tussled with the par-3 eighth hole and have the scars to prove it. Lee 
Westwood, one of only two golfers in the field to have finished in the top 10 here, in 2004 and 1997, says it is the kind of challenge that seeps into the psyche the minute players leave the warm-up area, and Rory McIlroy admitted to a torturous eight and a nine there in practice. Stenson has, so far, fared better, but he is aware of the carnage it can wreak.

“Today was quite easy,” he added. “But anyone who wants to see potential train wrecks, if it’s blowing hard into off the left, that would be the place to sit, in that left-hand grandstand and see a player struggle with that right-hand bunker.”