It wasn’t quite a deja vu moment. But it was close. Exactly 12 months before, Henrik Stenson was standing in exactly the same spot talking to the same journalist about his final round in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
A year ago, the 46-year-old Swede had shot a closing round seven under 65; this time he had to settle for a score one shot higher. But the conversations were strikingly similar, with the Ryder Cup captaincy top of the agenda.
Back in January 2022, of course, Stenson was merely the most prominent candidate looking to succeed Padraig Harrington as skipper of the 2023 European team. This time, he stood in place as the deposed captain, having been given the job then asked to leave when he made his now infamous decision to play on the LIV Golf League.
He hasn’t lost his renowned sense of humour though. The former Open champion had a good laugh at the opening question:
“So last year you shot 65. Today, you shot 66. What has gone wrong in the last year?”
More seriously, Stenson discussed his week in the largest of the United Arab Emirates, what was also his first trip back to the DP World Tour since the Genesis Scottish Open last July. Two weeks after that, he was stripped of the captaincy, having committed what many on the former European Tour see as a heinous betrayal.
“It’s been fun to catch up with a lot of the other players and people on this tour,” said Stenson, who finished in a tie for 20th, 10 under par and eight shots back of winner Victor Perez. “I’ve played and lived in this region for so many years. I know a lot of people and hadn’t seen many of them since last summer. No one has stepped up to my face and told me they have a problem with me.
“I actually wasn’t worried about that,” he continued. “I’ve been on good terms with most people for a long time. They might have different opinions, but if that difference is going to get in the way of friendships or relationships then so be it. I like to think I can still sit down and have a beer and a chat with anyone. If that changes, it’s not really my worry. There are enough people in the phone book if I need to find someone to have a chat with. So if someone has an issue with me, fine. But it’s not on me.”
Neither is the result of the arbitration case next month that will decide whether or not Stenson and his fellow LIV players will be allowed to compete on the DP World Tour going forward.
“I’ll be watching the arbitration case with interest,” he admitted. “I’m not going to guess on the result. But it will be interesting to see what comes after it. I still want to play on this tour. In my mind, nothing has changed from when I started playing on multiple tours. I’ve always supported Europe. It’s been a big part of my career. Nothing will ever change that. In fact, I could see me playing here more often than in past years if it turns out I can. It’s all a tangle at the moment though.”
And the Ryder Cup? How is he going to feel siting home watching on television, knowing that it could have been him, not Luke Donald, leading the Old World into battle with the New?
“I’ve watched Ryder Cups before, those I haven’t played in,” he said. “And, of course, there will be some emotions involved for me this year. But if I go out and win the Open Championship again and do well elsewhere, I might qualify. It’s not impossible. And it would certainly be the irony of ironies. But until we know exactly what is happening, no one can say what the situation is going to be. I’m not a guy who wants to guess.”