Henrik Stenson is still trying to figure out what he needs to do to make a run at a green jacket.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think about it and analyze it,” said the 42-year-old Swede, who had 19 worldwide victories, including the 2016 British Open, through the Arnold Palmer Invitational in mid-March.
“You’ve seen the record,” he told reporters, referring to the Masters. “It’s the least successful major out of the four. It is the major that I have performed the least over the years in and possibly the one I want to perform the best going forward.”
In 12 starts at Augusta National, his best finish is a tie for 14th in 2014.
One way Stenson knows he can improve his Masters record is by hitting his drives farther.
“I just know I need to push the ball out there a little bit more,” he said.
Because of the undulating greens, there is a usually only a small landing area to hit it on the green in order to have a good run at a birdie. High iron shots, which are Stenson’s specialty, make it easier to do that – if he can get his drive down the fairway far enough.
“He can drop those irons from some kind of height,” 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott said. “He muscles it, but it’s high muscle. It’s not like it’s strong through the wind muscle. It’s up there and just dropping on the green.”
Then there is a question of the accuracy of the iron shot into a green. Stenson said they have to be great.
“There is not really any play for a good shot or almost good shot or poor shot because they end up in the same place as a poor shot,” he said. “You’ve got to be very precise and hit those small areas on the green. That’s obviously the thought behind it.”
Stenson said in the past he might have given the course too much respect. You have to “take it on” if you expect to win, he said.
“There is room to actually stiff it on virtually every pin position,” he said. “You’ve got to be aggressive and you’ve got to hit a good shot at that time. Because it’s a difficult golf course, you can’t shy away from the pins and try to play conservative because you’ll never get to the score you need to get to. You’ve just got to take the shots on. If it’s not your week it’s not going to work out anyway, is it? I think it’s a little more boom or bust in that sense. You’re going to see guys kind of take it on.”
Before he missed the cut last year at the Masters, Stenson had been making progress at Augusta National Golf Club – five made cuts in a row, with top 24 finishes in four of those.
But a year after Stenson closed the 2016 Masters with 69 to finish tied for 24th despite a third-round 78, he had a horrendous start in the first round of the 2017 Masters. He bogeyed four of the first five holes and ended up shooting 4-over-par 40 on the side. He shot 38 on the front nine in the second round, finishing 6-over for the tournament on the side for the two rounds.
He shot 77-75 and missed the cut by two shots.
The 4-over start in five holes last year wasn’t Stenson’s worst in a major, he said.
“I have indeed had worse starts in majors. One was at Augusta when I hit the stand on No. 4 and I think I ended up taking an eight or something on that one. And I was sick as a dog at Whistling Straits in 2010 (at the PGA Championship) and I think I started double, triple. So there have actually been some worse starts, not that we want to really remember them too much.”
Those early bogeys last year at Augusta doomed Stenson’s chances in the tournament.
“If you’re looking at possibly making four or five bogeys throughout the week for the champion, if you waste four of those in the first five holes, it’s going to be a long way back from there, right?” he said.
“I think you need to make roughly 20 birdies (to win),” he said. “If the weather is decent, you’re always going to make a couple of bogeys. What was the winning score last year? Nine under. That was because of the weather the first couple of days more than anything. Some years it’s been 15, 16 under. If you don’t make 20 birdies and five bogeys, you’re not going to get there.”