Henrik Stenson joked yesterday about suffering uncounted sleepless nights worrying about whether Swedish male golfers will ever match their female compatriots' success in major tournaments. "They tease us all the time about it," he said after brilliantly forcing himself into contention for the British Open after a five-under-par third round of 67.
"They seem so sweet on the surface, don't they? But they are horrible to us, really." Stenson, who has spent much of the last two years in the world's top 10, and Robert Karlsson, a former European Tour Order of Merit winner, along with countrymen like Peter Hanson and Fredrik Andersson Hed have all, much to their frustration, failed to make the transiton from tournament winner to major champion.
Unlike Annika Sorenstam, acknowledged as the finest female player in history before her premature retirement at the end of 2008. Sorenstam, who accumulated 10 major titles in a dominant decade between 1995 and 2006, has illustrious company in the LPGA hall of fame. Liselotte Neumann, Helen Alfredsson and Anna Nordqvist have all carried the Swedish flag to victories in their organisation's big-four events.
"We have been waiting for such a long time," said Stenson. "To have a Swedish player winning a major would be great, whether it be me, Robert or any of the other guys. "The reason Sweden hasn't won any majors on the male side is that we haven't positioned ourselves well enough going into the final round. "But now it seems like both Robert and myself are up there. If we can be there entering the back nine anything can happen."
Stenson was speaking when Karlsson was still on the course with the same seven-under-par cumulative score as his own but Karlsson surrendered valuable ground on the back nine with bogeys at the 10th, 13th and 16th, leaving Stenson to lead his country's challenge against Louis Oosthuizen, Paul Casey and co this afternoon. His chances were enhanced by the shot of the day: a holed lob wedge for eagle on the 13th. He had played conservatively in taking a three wood to the 465-yard par four and was pleased to see his ball hit a downslope and "run forever" to get within 105 yards of the pin.
"I guess I pitched it perfectly just on the green and after a while the crowd went crazy, which I took as a good sign," he said of that bonus eagle. It was a day of highlights for the Swede who was called into action at the crack of dawn to resume unfinished second-round business at the 17th. He was about 12 yards from that hole when play was suspended on Friday night and he thought he had made the birdie putt with his first stroke of the day. "I checked that there was no cling film over the hole because my ball seemed to go right over it," he said.
Undeterred, he chipped in from 50 yards at the last to salvage a 74 from his wind-wrecked second day and hit the ground running when he went out again at lunchtime yesterday. "Going into my third round on the back of that birdie was important," he said, pointing to another morale-boosting moment when he nailed a 60-footer at the eighth. Until this year, Stenson was regarded as one of the UAE's favourite adopted sons. He still plans to maintain his Dubai residency but is now dividing his time with lengthy stays in Florida to pursue a greater commitment to the PGA Tour.
"It's going to be something to look into when it's time for Lisa (his daughter) to start school and so on. So we'll see what happens. Nothing is written in stone there. "So it's Dubai in the wintertime, mainly, and then Florida in the spring, and then a couple of months in and out of Sweden to see some family and friends and when I play the European tournaments." firstname.lastname@example.org