Henrik Stenson wins first LIV tour event since defecting and being stripped of Ryder Cup captaincy

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Henrik Stenson wins first LIV tour event since defecting and being stripped of Ryder Cup captaincy - GETTY IMAGES
Henrik Stenson wins first LIV tour event since defecting and being stripped of Ryder Cup captaincy - GETTY IMAGES

Henrik Stenson’s decision last week to sign up with the Saudi rebel circuit and so all but force Ryder Cup Europe to strip him of the captaincy was hugely controversial. Yet nobody can deny it was also outrageously lucrative, with a remarkably quick yield.

In winning on his LIV debut event here, Stenson, 46, added £3.3 million to the £40 million he received to break the contract he signed to lead his continent in next year’s match in Rome. There was a feeling of revenge rather than redemption in the air of Trump National.

Donald Trump Jr, the son of the billionaire owner, believed it to be the former - "the greatest F/U in the history of Golf just happened" the ever charming character tweeted - but fortunately Stenson was more circumspect.

“I played like a captain,” Stenson said with a smirk. “I think there might have been a little bit of extra motivation in there this week. When we as players have that, we can bring out the good stuff. I certainly did that this week.

“That’s been a theme over the course of my career - when I really want something I manage to dig deeper and make it happen. It's about looking forward, for me at least and I'm super proud with the focus I had.”

There was another £305,000, his share of the runners-up team here at Trump National, but, in relative terms, that is such a piffling amount it barely seems worth the mention (although that eight percent portion of this Camelot-style payday is still more than Sean Crocker collected for winning his first DP World Tour title on Sunday).

In the last fortnight, the Swede has not quite doubled his career earnings, but he has not been far from doing so and considering the fact that the 2016 Open champion won £10 million in two months in 2013 - having won both the PGA Tour and European Tour end-of-season bonuses - that is nothing short of ludicrous.

But then, in a tie for sixth, Westwood took home almost £1m, after his team earnings alongside Stenson were also taken into account. At 49, the English veteran can hardly believe his good fortune and surely nobody should ask why he is playing LIV.

Stenson’s timing was certainly priceless as he shot a 69 for an 11-under total to beat Americans Matthew Wolff and Dustin Johnson by two strokes. “I played like a captain,” Stenson said with a smirk.

On Monday Luke Donald will be officially announced as Stenson’s replacement and the Englishman is sure to be asked about his statement, “I will not be doing a Henrik”. But “doing a Henrik” now surely has another layer of meaning. Would you go back on your word for close on £45m in 12 days?

As it is, Stenson continues to feel aggrieved at his treatment from the Tour, who quickly removed him from the role when he revealed that he was signing for Greg Norman’s enterprise. Predictably, Stenson has been supported by his fellow rebels, who agree that there was no reason that he should not have been allowed to carry on in the job, while appearing on the breakaway league.

Conveniently, this ignores his signature on that contract that essentially stipulated he would not be joining LIV. “It was a bitter and mean-spirited move,” said David Feherty, the former Ryder Cup player from Ulster who is now a LIV analyst. “Henrik came here with something to prove.”

Henrik Stenson won the event in New Jersey by two strokes - GETTY IMAGES
Henrik Stenson won the event in New Jersey by two strokes - GETTY IMAGES

If he proved anything it is that there remains life in that old three-wood and he can still conjure wonderful iron shots. This is his first title since December 2019 and although the former world No 2’s ranking will stay rooted outside the top 170 - LIV events is still waiting to see if its events are approved for world ranking status - there was so much consolation at hand there were barely enough pockets in New Jersey in which to stuff it.

Stenson’s wire-to-wire comeback capped off another bizarre and hectic week for LIV, but the series is set to go eerily quiet for a few weeks, as it  takes a month-plus break in between its third and fourth events.

Yet while the PGA Tour might be glad of the calming in hostilities while it stages its £60m end-of-season playoffs, the warning from the Greg Norman enterprise is that come the last week of August the big-name exodus will reach a new level of controversy.

“There’s more stuff coming,” Norman said. “Put it this way, we wouldn’t have put the announcement out earlier about launching the league next year if there wasn’t a very clear indicator of how solid we feel about the players we’ll have going into next year.”

With big names such as Hideki Matsuyama and Open champion Cam Smith constantly being rumoured, as well as many other high-profile competitors, there is a burgeoning theory that there will a raft of heavyweights announced after the Tour Championship - which will see the FedEx winner walk off with £15m - on August 28 and then after the Presidents Cup on September 25 as well.

The LIV campaign climaxes on October 28-31 on another Trump course. Doral - the annual Miami stop on the PGA Tour from 1962 to 2016 - will host the £40m team climax and after this experience there can surely be no doubt that the former President will be in attendance.

The 76-year-old was here throughout this 54-holer and drew bigger crowds than the players, themselves, with several hundred congregating outside the clubhouse for an occasional glimpse of Trump, while chanting “four more years”. On occasion, this seemed less like a sports competition and more like a political rally.

As Stenson was clinically closing out, Mr Trump was there in front of the devoted hoards who were chanting "Let's Go Brandon",  a well-known euphemism in his circle of supporters for "F—, Joe Biden", the sitting US President. Does golf really need this? Does LIV?