What was that? Henrik Stenson hit a 3-wood from 260 yards over a stream to within four inches of the hole to close out the World Tour Championship in Dubai on Sunday. That had to be one of the best last-hole shots any winner has hit. It gave Stenson a tap-in putt for an eagle, a closing 64, and a win by six shots. He's the Race to Dubai champion and the FedEx Cup champion. Luke Donald said Stenson's ball-striking was as good as anybody's he's seen, "probably as good as Tiger in his prime."
It's not as if Stenson needed the 3-wood finale to win in Dubai, given that he had a four-shot lead. But the shot put a stamp on what he's been doing, and where he is in the game now. He's ranked third in the world, behind Tiger Woods and Adam Scott, now number two after winning the Australian Masters and Australian PGA the last two weeks. Stenson is setting his sights on winning his first major championship. The Masters is four and a half months away.
Stenson's soaring 3-wood on the 72nd hole in Dubai finds a place in the pantheon of great shots that winners have hit on final holes. The hole was cut in the front left of the green, close to the stream's edge. He hit the ball in the middle of the clubface, and it landed just left of and beyond the hole, took the slope of the green, and cuddled up next to the hole.
What was that? Some kind of shot, that's what it was.
Think about shots winners have hit on the last hole. Which shots come to mind? Here are a few that come to my mind, starting with a shot that Sandy Lyle hit from a fairway bunker on the final hole of the 1988 Masters.
Lyle needed to par the hole to tie Mark Calcavecchia for the lead and force a playoff. His ball was sitting in a good lie in the bunker. Lyle's 7-iron flew over the high lip easily and landed behind the hole. The ball spun back 12' right of the hole. Lyle made the putt and won his first and only major. Some shot.
Then there was the six-iron that Tiger Woods hit on the last hole of the 2000 Canadian Open at the Glen Abbey Golf Club. He was a shot ahead of Grant Waite, with whom he was playing. Woods had driven into a bunker right of the fairway. Waite was in the fairway. He had water in front of the green. The pin was to the far right of the green.
Woods caught the ball cleanly and it flew the 218 yards to the hole and finished just over the green in the short grass. Woods doesn't think it's the best shot he's ever hit because the lip wasn't high and it was a matter only of hitting the ball cleanly–without catching any sand, that is. He did that and he won the tournament.
Three summers later, Shaun Micheel won the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill in Rochester with a signature shot of his own. He had a one-shot lead over Chad Campbell as he played the last hole. Micheel's drive finished just in the left rough, and was sitting nicely. His 7-iron from 174 yards flew at the hole.
"Be right," Micheel said as the ball was in the air. It was. The ball finished two inches from the hole. Micheel won by two shots.
"Add that one to PGA Championship lore," CBS's Jim Nantz said.
Such last-hole shots become part of golf lore. Finally, anybody who was watching the 1977 Open Championship from the Turnberry Golf Club in Ayrshire, Scotland will recall the shots that Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus hit on the last hole. Each had shot 68-70-65 for the first three rounds. Watson was a shot ahead of Nicklaus, whose tee shot ran through the last fairway and nearly up against a gorse bush. Watson was away, and in the fairway.
Watson's 7-iron approach could only have been better if it went in the hole. The ball finished two and a half feet away. Nicklaus hadn't won 14 majors to then by not focusing on the only thing he could control: the shot he faced.
Nicklaus slashed at the ball and managed to get it in the front of the green 40' from the hole. He made the putt. Watson stepped up to his putt and didn't hesitate. He rolled the ball in to win the Open. Thirty-six years have passed since their superb dual shots on that final hole at Turnberry. Their head to head confrontation has been called the Duel in the Sun. Dave Shedloski wrote a book of the same name that captures the memorable shots that Watson and Nicklaus hit on that 72nd hole.
Stenson's 3-wood into the last green in Dubai wasn't in a major, nor, as mentioned, did he need it to win. But it provided an exclamation mark to a big event in which he missed only four greens. Justin Rose, this year's U.S. Open champion, said of Stenson's win that it was "an emphatic way to end the season."
It was that, and his final shot was an emphatic way for him to end the tournament. It's a shot to remember, and it will be replayed frequently over the years. That's how it is for emphatic last-hole shots that winners make.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round's on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf's Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein