For a country with a population of only nine million, Sweden’s record in golf has been nothing short of remarkable.
Ninety-four European Tour titles have been won by Swedish players, nine golfers from that country have played in The Ryder Cup, and one – Robert Karlsson – has won The Race to Dubai, in 2008.
In the list of wins by country, the Scandinavian nation is seventh, not far behind the likes of powerhouses England, United States, Australia and South Africa – all of whom have far larger populations.
But one thing is missing from Sweden’s glittering curriculum vitae: a male Major Champion. However, Henrik Stenson and Jonas Blixt are out to change that in today’s final round of the US PGA Championship.
For Stenson, this week at Oak Hill is the continuation of a rich vein of form that has yielded top three finishes in his last three events. The 37 year old was second at The Open Championship – his highest finish in a Major – and tied runner-up at last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational behind runaway winner Tiger Woods.
This purple patch is a far cry from his form of only 18 months ago, when he had slumped to 230th in the Official World Golf Ranking and was at a loss to explain the disappearance of the swing that had made him one of the most consistent performers on the planet. Indeed, this time two years ago, he was competing in his home club championship instead of mixing it with the world’s finest – and he did not even win that.
Fast forward 24 months and Stenson is two shots off the lead heading into the last day at Oak Hill Country Club following rounds of 69, 66 and 68.
“Golf is definitely a whole lot more fun than it was back in 2011,” Stenson,who has had six top ten finishes in his 30 Major appearances, said after his third round. “It's more fun to show up at the races with a good gear box and a good set of tyres.”
Blixt is one stroke further back at six under par, and while the 29 year old is not yet a household name, that could be about to change.
The Florida-based player has won twice on the US PGA Tour in the last year, finished tied 26th on his Major debut at The Open last month and has high hopes of making Europe’s Ryder Cup team for the 2014 contest at Gleneagles.
Assessing his chances on the final day in Rochester, Blixt said: “I’ll be trying not to think too much about it (winning). You shouldn’t get caught up in that. I always try to downplay it. I know it’s a Major and it’s huge, but if I start thinking about that stuff, I may as well pack my bags and go home.”
Could the long wait for a male Swedish Major Champion be nearly over?