The world No4 Swede, winner of the Open Championship this year, comes into the tournament with a chance to win the Race to Dubai for a second time, leading the standings with only three players having a mathematical chance of catching him.
In 2015, Stenson never recovered from a poor start, which saw him drop five shots in the last four holes for a 77 on the opening day. Tired from his long playing schedule, he tied for last place at 291, 24 shots behind champion Rory McIlroy.
That score is no reflection of his capabilities an the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estates, having won in 2013 with a tournament record tally of 25-under par, following that up with another title in 2014 at 16-under par.
When asked if he learnt any lessons from last year, the quick-witted Stenson quipped: “You mean the year when I had to stand on my head to see myself on top of the leaderboard?
“Yeah, mainly I put it down to me being pretty flat when I came here. I had been out for a few weeks on the road, and I think I was just running out of steam. I didn’t get off to a great start, and after that, it was hard to come back.
“I know I can play well around here, of course, and once again, I think I’ve got a good game plan in place and I’m going to go out there and try and execute it. And even if I don’t play my best, I’m probably going to try a little bit harder than I did last year for the final two rounds.”
The fact that he did not enter the Turkish Airlines Open this year and gave himself a week’s rest in Florida, was a direct result of how he felt on the golf course here last year.
“Yeah, I felt like I didn’t want to be out for a full month. So I decided to go back home for a week. That was always my plan. Even though it’s tough with the jet-lag back and forth, it felt like it was the right thing to do,” he added.
“I’m not getting any younger. I think if anything, I would like to cut maybe back one or two weeks rather than adding to my schedule. Quality is definitely more important than quantity at this point in my career.”
Stenson, who was awarded an honorary life membership by the European Tour for his fantastic career so far, said he was delighted to be in the position he was – leading the Race to Dubai and controlling his own destiny over the next few days.
“I’m in a great position. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. When I took off to China, I was hoping to make up some ground. I knew I needed to play some good golf and I managed to have a great week in Shanghai and finished second there to overtake Danny on the Race to Dubai and managed to stay ahead,” said Stenson.
“That’s all I wanted to do. I wanted to be in a position where I had it in my own hands knowing that if I win here, that would seal the deal. And I’m in an even better position given that I don’t necessarily need to win, even though that’s kind of my mindset coming in here.
“I need to play well, have a good, strong week, because you can never rely on what the other guys are going to do. When you are the No1 player, then they need to play better than you do this final week to overtake you. I hope we can be here as winner of Race to Dubai on Sunday.”
When asked if becoming the world No1 was his next goal, the 40-year-old Swede replied: “I think I’ll have some time to reflect and look ahead when the season is over. Let’s finish off this week first and then we will think of world No1.
“For me, the world rankings is a reflection on how well you are playing over a period of time, and I was always more keen on winning a major championship. I’ll probably be more keen on winning a second major than become world No1 potentially. They kind of go hand-in-hand; the better you play, the better your chances of becoming world No1 is going to be.
“I’ll keep on chipping away, hopefully adding those points and I think it will definitely be a big motivation if I feel like I’m within reach of it.”
Stenson will have another important task to focus on before the end of the year as the players’ representative on the selection panel choosing Europe’s next Ryder Cup captain.
European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, past captains Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley and Jose Maria Olazabal will join Stenson in choosing Clarke’s successor following the defeat at Hazeltine.
Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn is odds-on favourite to lead the team in Paris in 2018, with Stenson admitting he would like the role himself in the future.
“Of course that would be a great honour and something that would be a lot of fun,” he added.
“It’s also a lot of work, as I’ve seen closely from some of my older colleagues that have been taking on that role. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, but I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t turn it down if I had the offer in the future.”
HATTON JUST HAPPY TO BE IN THE FINAL EVENT
With the spotlight at the DP World Tour Championship firmly on the four players on top of the Race to Dubai who have a chance to become European No1, you’d think the man next in line – No5 Tyrrell Hatton – would be slightly frustrated his breakout season wasn’t good enough to contend for the biggest honour on the Tour.
However, the soft-spoken 24-year-old from Marlow is anything but disappointed. It has been a brilliant season, one in which he won his maiden title – the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews – and recorded top-10s in the Open Championship and the PGA Championship.
Asked if he was frustrated not to have a shot at No1 despite coming so close, Hatton said: “For me personally, no. I think it has been such a great year…to get my first win and to do so at the Home of Golf was very special.
“If you had told me at the start of the season that I’d be fifth in the Race to Dubai, playing the final event, I would have been absolutely over the moon with that.” Hatton has twice made it to the season-ending championship, and finished tied sixth on debut in 2014 and tied 13th last year.
He added: “I have done very well here in the past. Hopefully, I can improve on that this week. I have been playing very well in the final series, it’s just that the putts haven’t dropped. I have done some good work today on the putting green and I feel like I have found something there.
“The greens are just perfect, some of the best that we putt all year. But I just generally like it out here in Dubai. I feel very comfortable here. I think just having that frame of mind helps me play good golf in this city.”
He will tee off with South African Branden Grace on Thursday at 12:20.
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