Ryder Cup afterglow
Stenson looks to spearhead Swedish revival
Sunday 26 September 2004
It was nice of the Ryder Cup to put in an appearance at Woburn Abbey on Wednesday evening for Ken Schofield's retirement party. Schofield is stepping down as executive director of the European Tour after 30 years, during which time Europe have beaten the Americans six times and tied once.
There were rather more members of the cup team at the Abbey than remain at the Heritage tournament today. Five did not enter, three withdrew with exhaustion, two missed the cut - Colin Montgomerie and Ian Poulter, none too chuffed since he is the Woburn touring professional - leaving only Padraig Harrington and David Howell.
Both enter the final round at two under, some way off the pace. You suspect an uproarious welcome awaits those team members at this week's AmEx World Championship at Mount Juliet, especially the Irish triumvirate, but here it has been more understated. "But it's been nice," Harrington said, "to receive those little rounds of applause for doing absolutely nothing."
Harrington needs to finish at least eighth to qualify for the HSBC World Match Play. The first prize is £1m and there is not even the consolation of the Million Dollar at Sun City as that week he is set to defend his Hong Kong Open title. Yet few golfers are less motivated by money.
Schofield's first office was at The Oval, and a painting by Jack Russell of the south London cricket ground was presented to him by Sir Alec and Eric Bedser on the players' behalf. They might have been trying to play at The Oval yesterday but there was no doubt here that the autumnal golfing season was underway.
Nordic invaders made their presence felt on the leaderboard with Henrik Stenson on top at 13 under, by a stroke from Patrik Sjoland and two from Simon Wakefield. Finland's Mikko Ilonen, the former British Amateur champ- ion, had the week's best round with a 65 to be 10 under. Graeme McDowell and Phillip Price, the overnight leaders, both struggled to 72s to stay at nine under, although McDowell had to birdie the last two holes to do so.
However dank and cold, the Duke's course is a magnificent trek through towering pines. It has produced many quality winners - Ian Woosnam finished with four birdies in the last six holes - although in recent times the championship course has been the Marquess, out of commission this week due to diseased greens. As befitting the older style, the Duke's needs pinpoint accuracy, and keeping a bogey off the card, as Wakefield did in his 67, is always notable.
The 30-year-old from Newcastle-under-Lyme has only once kept his card on the European Tour and, at 146th on the Order of Merit, needs a large cheque sharpish. A new fitness regime allowed him to concentrate despite a headache, and plenty of support from Trentham Park has also helped him.
Sjoland has not won for four years and said it was worrying not just that there was no Swede in the Ryder Cup team but that few of his countrymen are winning. Stenson won the 2001 Benson and Hedges International in his rookie year but remodelled his game completely with Pete Cowen.
Stenson is right-handed and trimmer but under a cap he disconcertingly resembles Phil Mickelson. The 28-year-old is a sturdy competitor and at The Belfry, as well as when winning three times on the Challenge Tour, he led from the front. "I played so poorly after I had that, I had to start again with my swing but hopefully I'm coming back stronger and better," he said.
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