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Henrik Stenson shows he still knows how to win

At Tiger’s Hero World Challenge, Patrick Reed plays role of goat and provides ammunition for Aussie fans at Presidents Cup

NASSAU, Bahamas — The 21st Hero World Challenge will be remembered especially for one shot and two practice swings, actions that had something to do with the outcome last week and the outlook down the road for the golfers involved.

The shot was a 259-yard 5-wood struck by Henrik Stenson on the 15th hole of Saturday’s final round at Albany, a gorgeous approach that set up a tap-in eagle on the par 5. The easy 3 moved the 43-year-old Swede into a lead that he parlayed into a one-stroke victory at 18-under 270 over defending champion Jon Rahm of Spain, who also eagled No. 15 for the third straight day, holing a 40-footer Saturday (scores).

Henrik Stenson Golfing
Henrik Stenson wins 21st Hero World Challenge

It was the first victory in more than two years for Stenson, whose clinical ball-striking when he is clicking on all cylinders is one of top-level golf’s most pleasing sights. He goes into the holidays energized and optimistic that he can build on this unofficial win and add another major to his 2016 British Open title. “This is the big stage,” Stenson said, pleased to have beaten a field that was stout if small at only 18 players in an unofficial PGA Tour event that awards world-ranking points.

Patrick Reed matched the 66s by Stenson and Rahm in the final round, finishing in third place, two behind, the same number of strokes that he was penalized for improving his lie in a waste area on the 11th hole during Friday’s third round.

Reed and his U.S. Presidents Cup teammates will tackle Royal Melbourne Golf Club this week. Before the competition in the perfect-for-golf Sandbelt outside Australia’s second-largest city, though, Reed had to deal with, in the eyes of many, a sand welt.

Video showed that Reed’s clubhead twice displaced sand behind his ball in a depression, a violation of Rule 8.1a (4). Despite what appeared to be conclusive visual proof of an obvious breach, Reed contended he hadn’t seen or felt the sand move in movements that flattened the sand in the path directly behind his ball and, on the second rehearsal swing, slightly inside the line.

“ … You could see the path of the sand come away in two different occasions,” said Slugger White, the PGA Tour’s vice president of rules and competitions. “He did it the first time and he put the club down again and he did it another time, but that’s irrelevant.”

Reed accepted the two-stroke penalty – as White indicated, the fact that sand was flattened twice didn’t matter, nor did Reed’s “intent” – that turned a 72 into a 74, dropping him three shots behind 54-hole leader Gary Woodland, but instead of a crisp mea culpa contended the evidence was biased.

“I didn't feel like I was doing anything that was improving a lie, but then when you saw it on camera, because of that camera angle, they [PGA Tour rules officials] said that the sand was moving,” Reed told reporters Saturday. “And when the sand moves like that, it’s a penalty.”

A captain’s pick by American playing captain Tiger Woods despite having stirred the pot in the wake of a one-sided loss to Europe in the 2018 Ryder Cup, Reed figured to be a focus at Royal Melbourne anyway. Now, after the rules infraction, he might get even more attention.

“There’s not really anything that’s going to be said or done that's going to really derail me at the end of the day when I go out there to play golf, especially next week,” Reed said. “I’m playing with my team and for the whole country, and at the end of the day nothing's going to get in my way – go play the golf I’m supposed to.”

Following the final round of the Hero, where he played beautifully for most of the tournament and finished fourth, Woods downplayed the effect that Reed’s situation might have at Royal Melbourne. “Of course we're going to be asked, but when it comes right down to it, we’ll just get ready to play and play,” Woods said. “Whatever Patrick has put out there is, he’s focused like he is in every cup. He just goes out and gets his point. Next week will be no different.”

An optimistic view, perhaps, but given that Reed played well in the fourth round despite the glare of the rules infraction, maybe not far-fetched. Reed, after all, won the 2018 Masters with his parents, from whom he was estranged, not in attendance at Augusta National. They watched on television from their home several miles from the hallowed course.

On a warm Saturday evening in the Caribbean, Reed was to join Woods and the rest of the U.S. Presidents Cup contingent on a charter flight from Nassau to Acapulco, Mexico, for refueling then all the way to Melbourne, a journey of nearly 24 hours and 10,000 miles. Plenty of time for movies, and cards, meals and sleep.

Once on the ground, the heavily favored Americans will battle jet lag and the Internationals in the 13th edition of what has been a one-sided competition. Everyone will find out – or not – whether Reed is battling anything harder to see than the Bahamian sand flattened when it shouldn’t have been.