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Wednesday, 21 March 2007

It is a measure of Henrik Stenson’s burgeoning profile in the United States that his preview interview for the WGC – CA Championship was second in length only to that of World Number One and defending champion Tiger Woods. Such media interest is completely understandable when you consider that both men possess the ideal game to tame the Blue Course and capture the US$1,350,000 first prize come Sunday evening at Doral Golf Resort & Spa, Miami.

Stretching to 7,266 yards, the so-called ‘Blue Monster’ is regularly referred to as a “long-hitter’s paradise” and few hit it longer than Stenson, the current European Tour Number One.

But what has made the Swede so successful is that, when on top form, he is not only brutally powerful off the tee, but also deadly accurate – something that should be crucial this week given the penal rough lining the fairways.

“There are a quite few guys who hit it past me. I think I might not be hitting it as far as I did sometimes last year, but I think my strength is that when I swing my driver well, I hit it both long and really accurate. So I think it’s more the combination that gives me the advantage,” remarked Stenson.

“This will be a tough test, but a fair test of golf.  The course looks to be in good shape, and they have forecast strong winds; it’s going to be tough on Thursday, I believe.  I think it could be a week where you really need to dig deep again and just be patient and try and be in there when Sunday arrives.”

Digging deep is exactly what Stenson did in registering a stunning 2&1 victory over defending champion Geoff Ogilvy in the final of the WGC – Accenture World Match Play four weeks earlier. It was his sixth tournament success on The European Tour International Schedule and the one that thrust him into the golfing media spotlight in America.

“It certainly gave me a boost, knowing that I can do so well in such a hard tournament, especially to be able to turn it around like I did in the final. I was 2 up during lunch and then after like eight holes of the second round, I was 2 down.

“So things were not looking that good. But I managed to pull myself together and come up with some good golf in the last couple of holes and close the deal. So I think that gives you some good confidence for future tasks.”

While Stenson is assiduously preparing for his first tournament round at Doral, Woods could afford a slightly more relaxed approach thanks to his remarkable record at Doral and in this championship specifically.

The American has lifted the title in five of the seven years this event has been running and is a combined total of 64 under par for his 16 tournament rounds on Doral’s Blue Course, which is hosting its first World Golf Championships event this week.

The first round gets underway on Thursday and the elite field has lost one member after England’s Justin Rose was forced to withdraw with a back injury for the third event in a row.

“I just wasn’t golf fit,” explained Rose. “Although I am hitting balls I have not done much putting and I have not been walking five hours a day. I felt that for what I would gain this week did not warrant the risk of me playing four rounds. I am planning to play the Tavistock Cup next Monday and Tuesday, which should be a gentle introduction, and might make a trip to Augusta in the middle of next week. The course at Augusta has changed quite considerably since I last played there and I want to take a look.

“On the positive side this enforced break may make me stronger for the middle of the year and could be a blessing in disguise. It’s been frustrating, but it’s made me hungrier.”

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