One year on from his third place finish at the US PGA Championship, Henrik Stenson is once again in a strong position to challenge in the year’s final Major thanks to an even par score on Friday that saw him finish at five under par.
Birdies at the seventh, tenth and 13th holes were bright spots in an otherwise overcast morning for the field, but were subsequently countered by a trio of dropped shots that balanced the books and saw the Swede finish four adrift of Rory McIlroy’s half way total.
Heavy rain tormented the morning players for much of their rounds, with a brief suspension of just under an hour caused by a torrential downpour shortly after the first groups hit the course. Valhalla recovered with aplomb, however, and that meant Stenson remained fairly unaffected by the ample precipitation.
The Race to Dubai Number One has become somewhat of a Major specialist in recent years, during a resurgence in form that has seen him record eight top ten finishes in his previous 23 starts, having not had a single one in the 11 appearances prior.
He might not have played his best on Friday, but as those numbers prove, he is a man for the big occasions and subsequently in a strong position to record his nation’s first ever male Major title this weekend, regardless of the conditions.
“The putting kept me in the game,” said Stenson. “I didn't have a great day ball striking wise, and I missed too many fairways, which put me in trouble a few times, but my putting kept me in it as I made a few good saves and one or two good birdie putts.
“All in all, I have to take it. I didn't have a great day out there, but I still kept it together and that's a positive. I just need a couple of minutes on the range hopefully and then we have to turn it up a bit over the weekend if we want to move forward from here on.
“It's still early to say where we're going to be, but so far so good. I think I'm three or four shots behind at the moment, and it could be more than that by the end of the day. There's still a lot of golf to be played, so it's more of a question of if I can turn it up a notch. Today wasn't a great day for me so I need to play better over the weekend.”
Conditions were not ideal, but Stenson explained how he went about handling them, as well as having time for a quick joke when asked what he struggles with most when playing in the rain.
“Staying dry,” quipped the 38 year old. “It just takes more time, as you have got to wait for your caddie to get the clubs wiped and put them back in and so on. I don't think too many guys like to play in rain gear normally, so that's obviously one thing.
“You try to play without the rain gear as much as you can, but there's always that breakeven point when you have to play and swing in the rain jacket, which is the most challenging part.”