Henrik Stenson calls LIV debut ‘best I’ve played all year’ days after Ryder Cup captaincy stripping

Tone deaf Henrik Stenson calls LIV Golf debut ‘the best I’ve played all year’ just a week after being dropped as Ryder Cup captain for defecting to the Saudi-backed organisation

  • Henrik Stenson carded a seven-under round in Bedminster in his LIV Golf debut
  • The world No 173 received £40million to join the Saudi-backed golf breakaway
  • The 46-year-old was stripped of his Ryder Cup captaincy after his defection
  • The Swedish star was happy with his performance in the third event of the series 

The end of day two and a stench of irony lingers around Bedminster.

‘The best I’ve played all year,’ is how Henrik Stenson described Friday’s opening 64. This was rather more undulating but still, after 36 holes as a paid-up member of golf’s rebel cause, the Swede sniffs victory. He leads by three shots heading into the final round; Stenson could pocket nearly £4million ($4m) on Sunday.

Not bad for the world No 173. Not bad for a 46-year-old who hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since 2017.

It is all rather comical because, let’s be frank, LIV Golf didn’t pay £40m ($48.7m) for Stenson to win tournaments. His defection was a naked provocation of golf’s old order, an ominous statement that proved not even the Ryder Cup captaincy would prevent players from being lured across the sport’s yawning fault lines.

Stenson himself made no mention of titles during his press conference earlier this week. Instead, he claimed, his head was turned by the money – who knew? – and LIV’s team competition, when four-man bands compete for a separate $5m prize pot. In separate groups, but under the same, naff, name.

Henrik Stenson called his inaugural performance at LIV Golf the best he’s played ‘all year’

Stenson received £40million to join the Saudi-backed series and his decision led to him being removed as captain from Europe's Ryder Cup team

Stenson received £40million to join the Saudi-backed series and his decision led to him being removed as captain from Europe’s Ryder Cup team

Stenson is part of ‘Majesticks’, alongside Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Sam Horsfield. They sit second, behind Dustin Johnson’s ‘4 Aces’.

‘I played golf with these guys for 20-plus years, so to be teaming up with them here this week, it’s something I look forward to,’ Stenson said of Westwood and Poulter. ‘We always had a lot of fun together and I would imagine that will continue.’

Together, they have stitched so much magic into the Ryder Cup tapestry.

Alas, defection could mean exile from future matches. Now the challenge is to make memories in Majesticks blue.

Stenson is part of LIV Golf's Majesticks alongside Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter

Stenson is part of LIV Golf’s Majesticks alongside Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter

Luke Donald is to be announced as Stenson's successor as Europe's Ryder Cup captain

Luke Donald is to be announced as Stenson’s successor as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain 

So far, these battles with ‘Iron Heads’ and ‘Fireballs’ have been rather lost in LIV’s festival of greed and gaudiness.

So far, the concept has seemed little more than another sideshow – another excuse to money to the purse – in a project where golf can feel like a conduit. An afterthought, even.

This week has made clear, however, that LIV see their team competition as a vital point of difference, an innovation that will help sustain this breakaway when initial intrigue and outrage begin to wane. Time and again in Bedminster, players shoehorned it into answers. 

Take Phil Mickelson. ‘I notice how people like to identify with a team rather than just individuals,’ he said. ‘That’s something I don’t fully grasp how big that could be.’

It hasn’t helped that, at this point, team members are being shuffled around as the cast list changes.

Next year, LIV will expand to a 14-tournament league featuring 12 fixed teams.

Phil Mickelson claimed 'people like to identify with a team rather than just individuals'

Phil Mickelson claimed ‘people like to identify with a team rather than just individuals’

The hope is that these teams will eventually become an avenue to bring money in. LIV plan to sell them – much like in Formula One – and to build them into brands, with ‘equity being held by the league (and) by the players.’

‘Teams get valued, teams get sold. We are introducing that concept,’ claimed LIV chief Atul Khosla.

Even with Majesticks vs 4 Aces finely poised, this remains a long way from the world – and the teams – Stenson has left behind.  

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