Sunday, 24 February 2008

Henrik Stenson ended the week in Arizona on a high when he claimed third place in the WGC – Accenture Match Play, comfortably seeing off the challenge of Justin Leonard by 3 and 2 in the 18 hole Consolation Match.

Naturally the Swede would have preferred to be in the showpiece final at The Gallery Golf Club but the consolation for his fine showing was the €391,849 (£293,172) he gained for the week, money which moved him comfortably to the top of The European Tour Order of Merit as well as greatly strengthening the likelihood of him being in Nick Faldo’s Ryder Cup Team at Valhalla come September.

It was those thoughts exactly which gave the 31 year old – who won the title at Tucson venue last year – the impetus to dominate the match against the former Open Champion Leonard and bring a satisfactory ending to a week which had begun with the Swede still feeling the effects of a flu bug which had struck him, his wife Emma and baby daughter Lisa over the previous seven days.

“At one stage before the week I thought I might have to fly in here maybe Monday night or even Tuesday morning because I wasn’t feeling that well at all,” he said.

“But I thought that if I had to do that, at least I am one of the players in the field who has played the most rounds here and I know all the pin positions and that kind of helps to have that in the bank when you come into an event like this.

“It is hard to mobilise the energy for a match for third place but obviously once you get out there you are trying hard and wanting to win as much as you can. Being third here was way above my expectations, and so being able to do so well, I’m delighted.

“As for The Ryder Cup, I have had a great record in match play and I hope I can keep on playing well throughout the season, get my points up and be part of that Team again, that would be great.

“Nothing is for sure but it has been a great start to the season with the two seconds in Abu Dhabi and Qatar, the sixth in Dubai and third here. I wanted to get some points on the board and I’ve managed to do that and now I have time to have some rest, work on my game and be fresh for Doral and Augusta.”

If he needed any motivation before the match began, Stenson – who earlier in the week had removed Robert Allenby, Trevor Immelman, Jonathan Byrd and Woody Austin before losing to Tiger Woods in the semi-final – got it from his start, eagling the first and winning the next three holes in two under par to immediately go four up after four holes.

Although Leonard battled hard and managed to take advantage of a couple of Stenson errors to halve the deficit by the tenth hole, he could make no further inroads as the Swede’s solid game returned.

The defining moment of the contest came at the 435 yard 15th which Stenson won after Leonard missed the green to go three up with three to play and he closed out the match on the next green.

Understandably disappointed, Leonard said: “I just didn’t play good. Henrik played very well and got off to a great start which was always going to be tough for me to get back into things. I tried hard, but I just didn’t play good enough.”

Stenson’s performance was unquestionably the highlight of a good week for The European Tour contingent in Arizona who contested the first World Golf Championship event of the 2008 season.

Of the 31 Tour Members who teed up on Wednesday morning, 16 made it to round two while five – Angel Cabrera, Paul Casey, Colin Montgomerie, Vijay Singh and Stenson – progressed to round three.

While that round signalled the end for Casey and Montgomerie, there was enough in their performance to cheer watching European Ryder Cup captain Nick Faldo, especially from the old warhorse Montgomerie who showed he would still be a formidable competitor at Valhalla in September as he dispatched Americans Jim Furyk and Charles Howell III before a cold putter saw him eventually succumb to eventual runner-up Stewart Cink.

Cabrera and Singh both progressed one round further round, to the quarter-finals, the duo showing the match play expertise that brought the Fijian the World Match Play title at Wentworth Club in 1997 and the Argentine only three losses in nine matches in two outings in the Presidents Cup.

Cabrera fought hard but came up against an inspired Cink in the last eight tussle, the American eventually closing out the match 3 and 2, while Singh battled bravely to chip away at Justin Leonard’s three hole lead after 11 holes in their match before eventually surrendering on the 18th green.


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