Henrik Stenson had control of the Masters Tournament through 17 holes Thursday.
All he needed was a bogey or better at the par-4 18th hole to maintain his lead and leave to enjoy his 36th birthday party.
That didn’t happen. He made quadruple bogey, tying for the highest score ever on Augusta’s closing hole and dropping Stenson from 5-under to 1-under 71.
“You make a little mistake and then you compound it with another one, and it just keeps on snowballing,” he said. “I got the snowman in the end.”
Stenson, who was in the midst of an early season comeback from a two-year slump, needed two shots to clear the woods and pine straw on the left of the 18th fairway and four shots to get down from behind the green. He lost all but one stroke he had gained with his eagles at Nos. 2 and 8 and birdies at Nos. 5, 10 and 15.
Stunned, Stenson gave brief comments to ESPN, went behind the clubhouse, then returned to face the rest of the media. He said his inability to hit fairways (he hit only6 of 14, and none after the 11th hole) made a disaster such as what happened at No. 18 possible at almost any time.
“If you can’t get the ball in play off the tee, you’re going to drop shots,” Stenson said. “Playing it out of the forest most of the day on the (second nine), it’s going to cost a little bit sooner or later. Disappointing that it cost that much.”
Stenson was 6-under after a 20-foot birdie putt at No. 10. He made his two eagles on 15-foot putts. He failed to get up-and-down at No. 14 but atoned for that when he chipped in for birdie from behind the green at No. 15.
“I was hoping to be able to keep it together on the (second) nine and I did everything except No. 18,” he said.
A three-putt bogey at No. 16 seemed a mere blip as Stenson strolled to the 18th tee with a two-shot lead over Paul Lawrie.
One of Stenson’s problems during his prolonged slump – crooked drives – haunted him on the closing hole. He yanked his drive deep into the left trees and the ball was in some bushes, but playable. Stenson punched out but failed to advance his second shot beyond the pine straw. The ball was in a bad lie, in an area where fans had been walking.
Stenson lobbied for relief but was told by a rules official to play the ball as it lay. His third shot, with a 4-iron, went only about 100 yards and right, into the right rough.
If he didn’t think things could get worse, they did.
He blew his wedge shot from 136 yards out four rows deep into the gallery behind the green. After marshals cleared patrons from the area, Stenson tried to get too delicate to the back hole placement and left the ball on top of the bank, in the fringe and 15 feet from the cup.
Stenson then putted six feet past the hole and missed the comebacker. His putt for 8 wasn’t a bargain – three feet – but he managed to compose himself enough to avoid setting a record for the highest score at No. 18.
“We kind of misjudged the wind,” Stenson said of his fourth shot.
Stenson became the seventh player to make an 8 at No. 18 in Masters history. Camilo Villegas was the most recent, in 2007.
Playing partner Gary Woodland, who had his own problems when he bogeyed two of the last three holes for 73, seemed stunned by what he witnessed and even lost track of what Stenson scored at the hole.
“He was playing solid, and it was his birthday … you’re supposed to play well on your birthday,” Woodland said. “He had it going. It’s unfortunate to see, but 1-under’s not bad.”
Stenson had a strong run from 2007-09, winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play in 2007, the World Cup with fellow Swede Robert Karlsson in 2008 and The Players Chanmpionship in 2009. He added a European PGA Tour title during that span and had a combined 31 top-10 finishes on the European PGA Tour and the PGA Tour.
But after driving woes began to plague him, Stenson had only four top-10 finishes on both tours in 2010 and one in 2011, on the European Tour.
However, Stenson seemed to be righting himself. After missing the cut in his first two European PGA starts, he tied for 20th at the Dubai Desert Classic, then came to the U.S. and finished 21st or better in four starts, including a tie for third in the Puerto Rico event and a tie for 15th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Stenson said he learned a lesson: don’t compound the problem at Augusta National.
“This course really bites back,” he said.