Stenson eyes first major title

Congleton Guardian: Henrik Stenson is looking to lift his first major at the weekend Henrik Stenson is looking to lift his first major at the weekend

The eyes of the golfing world, not to mention a dedicated TV channel, will be on Tiger Woods in the opening round of the 143rd Open Championship on Thursday.

But playing partner Henrik Stenson will be focused solely on claiming a first major title to put the finishing touches to his impressive CV.

Stenson and Argentina's Angel Cabrera have been paired with Woods for the opening two rounds at Hoylake and Stenson is rated to have a better chance than Woods of lifting the Claret Jug on Sunday.

As low as 5/1 before his victory at Royal Liverpool in 2006, Woods could be backed at 20/1 ahead of his first major of 2014 after missing the Masters and US Open following back surgery.

World number two Stenson - who can overtake Adam Scott at the top of the rankings this week - is rated a 16/1 third favourite behind Scott and England's Justin Rose, winner of his last two events.

"The Open Championship is a highlight of any season and for any player I think, especially European born ones," said Stenson, who finished second to Phil Mickelson at Muirfield last year and third in both 2010 and 2008.

"It would mean the world to me to win this championship and if it doesn't happen this year, I'll come back and try next year.

"I'm after a major championship at some point and I'm not going to be greedy, I'll take any one of them. But of course it would be the icing on the cake to do it in Europe."

Stenson's runner-up finish last year was part of an amazing second half of the season, which saw him become the first man to win the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup and European Tour's Race to Dubai in the same season.

The 38-year-old banked a USD 10million bonus for his FedEx Cup triumph, secured in style with victory in the Tour Championship in Atlanta, while also winning more than £3m in Europe.

But despite admitting he was "running on fumes" at the end of last season, Stenson insists he is determined not to rest on his laurels.

"I grew up watching this championship. It was a boyhood dream to play in the Ryder Cup and win the Open," added Stenson, who won the unofficial 'fifth major', the Players Championship, in 2009.

"So just because I've had some great success, I don't think that dream has gone away. And it's the last thing on my CV to make it complete, more or less, in my eyes. So I will try my hardest to make it happen.

"Motivation is always a factor, and you've got to have that drive if you want to make those things happen. And I feel like I still have that.

"I know I would be the first Swedish man to win a major. But for me it's more about winning a major. If one of my Swedish colleagues can do it before me, well done to them. I'm just looking at trying to get one for myself."

Woods of course has won 14 for himself, but none since the 2008 US Open. The 38-year-old has played just two competitive rounds since March - missing the cut in his comeback event at Congressional - but can at least draw on his stunning performance at Hoylake in 2006.

Using his driver just once all week, Woods swapped power for precision on the rock-hard links and won by two shots from Chris DiMarco, carding an 18-under-par total just a shot outside his own major championship record.

Current conditions suggest he will be hard-pushed to do so again, Stenson adding: "I definitely see more than one driver. I'll use it a few more times. There's at least two par fives (10th and 16th) where I see driver off the tee. And there could be a couple more holes depending on the wind."

The one piece of good news for Woods is that recent statistics suggest the cream will again rise to the top at Hoylake.

Since Darren Clarke and Keegan Bradley won the last two majors of 2011 when 111th and 108th in the world respectively, the lowest ranked winner of a major has been Ernie Els, who was 40th when he won the 2012 Open at Lytham.

Last year, Adam Scott was ranked seventh when he won the Masters, Justin Rose fifth before his US Open triumph at Merion and Phil Mickelson also fifth before his Open victory at Muirfield. Jason Dufner was 21st when he won the US PGA Championship at Oak Hill.

So far in 2014, Bubba Watson was ranked 12th before claiming his second Masters title and Martin Kaymer 28th before winning a second major crown in the US Open.

Seventh in the rankings after his comeback event, Woods would fit in nicely with that recent run of top-quality major champions. But Hoylake looks to have come just too soon even for him.

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