ATLANTA — Henrik Stenson knows better than most players how it feels to go from the depths of a slump to the elite in golf.
He’s done it twice now.
And the second time was sweeter — and richer — than ever.
Not even among the top 200 players in the world two years ago, Stenson capped off the best three months of his career with a command performance Sunday in the Tour Championship. With a birdie to thwart a late charge by Jordan Spieth, followed by three pars from the sand, the 37-year-old Swede closed with a 2-under 68 on Sunday for a three-shot victory to capture the FedEx Cup.
He walked away with $11.44 million — $10 million for the FedEx Cup ($9 million of that in cash) and $1.44 million for winning the Tour Championship.
“It shows that I never give up,” Stenson said, who also moves to No. 4 in the world. “This is way beyond what I could have imagined.”
Even with a four-shot lead, the final round was a battle. There were two trophies on display on the first tee. He knew he could still win the FedEx Cup even if he didn’t win the Tour Championship. Ultimately, he figured good golf would take care of everything, and it did.
Stenson became the first player to win the Tour Championship wire-to-wire with no ties since Tom Watson in 1987, the first year of this 30-man showcase.
Spieth made him work for it.
The 20-year-old Texan left one last impression on his remarkable rookie season by running off four straight birdies on the back nine at East Lake to pull within one shot after Stenson went well over the 14th green and made his long bogey.
Stenson could hear the cheers and knew what he faced over the last four holes.
“I’m not just a pretty face. I can put 1-and-1 together,” the Swede said with his dry humor.
He drilled a 3-wood into the fairway on the par-5 15th that set up an 8-foot birdie. Ahead of him on the 17th, Spieth was between clubs and chose to hammer a 9-iron that he caught heavy enough that it plugged in the front bunker. He made bogey and had to settle for a 64.
“I was just looking up and seeing that I needed more instead of being satisfied with what happened,” Spieth said of his four straight birdies.
Spieth wound up No. 7 in the FedEx Cup, the highest ever for a rookie. He began the year with no status on any tour and finished at No. 10 on the PGA Tour money list, and No. 21 in the world.
The last challenge came from Steve Stricker, who rolled in an eagle putt on the 15th hole to get within two. Stricker saved par behind the 16th green, and then missed two birdie chances from about 18 feet on the last two holes for a 65. He tied for second with Spieth.
Stricker didn’t realize that making any of those last two putts would have been worth an extra $1 million for finishing second in the FedEx Cup. He only cared about winning, knowing he needed birdies and for Stenson to make a mistake.
“I knew the putt meant a lot. I didn’t know it meant that much,” he said with a smile. He finished third in the FedEx Cup and received a $2 million bonus.
Stenson, who finished at 13-under 267, became the first European to win the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup.
His amazing summer began with a tie for third in the Scottish Open. Stenson followed with a runner-up at the British Open and the World Golf Championship at Firestone, third place at the PGA Championship and a win at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
“Obviously, the work was done before,” Stenson said. “It’s not like I woke up in the middle of July and played fantastic.”
The Tour Championship was his second win in three tournaments of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
“Since the Scottish Open, it’s been just an incredible run,” he said. “I’m speechless. It was a tough day out there. To hang in there the way I did, I’m really satisfied. ... It hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I had to fight hard mentally to keep all this aside, and I managed to do that. It’s going to feel better as the week goes on. I’m pretty sure about that.”
Tiger Woods, the No. 1 seed going into the Tour Championship, never recovered from his 73-71 start. He closed with a 67 to tie for 22nd, his worst finish ever at East Lake, and wound up second in the FedEx Cup. That still was worth a $3 million bonus.
Woods wrapped up the PGA of America’s points-based award for player of the year, and he captured the PGA Tour money title and the Vardon Trophy for the lowest adjusted scoring title. Next up is a vote of the players for PGA Tour player of the year. He is the heavy favorite with five wins this year.
The award is to be announced on Friday.
For much of the day, no one got closer to Stenson than three shots, and he answered that early challenge with an 8-iron to an elevated green to 2 feet for birdie at No. 7. The Tour Championship came to life in the final hour, though, thanks to the youngest player in the field.
Fearless as ever, Spieth began a run of birdies starting on the 13th hole that not only moved him into second place, it put pressure on Stenson not to drop any shots. Stenson’s only bogey came on the 14th, when he caught a flyer over the green and missed a 20-foot putt.
“Henrik obviously was playing phenomenal golf,” Spieth said. “I felt like once a few putts started falling, we have a shot at it.”
Webb Simpson had the low round of the tournament with a 63 to finish fourth.
Stenson, who only last week smashed a driver and his locker at the BMW Championship out of frustration brought on by playing so much golf, finally gets a break. He was headed to his home in Orlando, Fla., for a four-week break before returning in Shanghai.
Next up: A chance to become the first player to win the FedEx Cup on the PGA Tour and the Race to Dubai on the European Tour in the same season.
What a turnaround.