Stenson has lofty ambitions for Open defence

Thursday, 20 July 2017 01:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

SOUTHPORT, England (Reuters): Henrik Stenson is known as “The Iceman”, and a year on from landing his first major title after an epic British Open duel with Phil Mickelson, the Swede was his usual laid-back self on Tuesday.

Two days before the start of his title defence at Royal Birkdale, Stenson said he had mixed feelings about the pressures of being the champion.

“I never felt it was a big problem not having won one, even though I badly wanted to win one,” he told reporters.

“But I never walked around feeling like, oh, I’m one of those guys on that list that potentially are the best players not to have won a major. I didn’t really feel that part.

“Once you win one, obviously that’s off your shoulder. Given how long and successful a career I’ve had, I think that’s pretty much what we’re aiming for, a few more chances to win more major championships.”

Stenson beat American Mickelson with a sparkling final round of 63 at Royal Troon 12 months ago, carding a record British Open score of 20 under par to become the first Scandinavian man to win a major.

Although the 41-year-old missed the cut in this year’s US Masters and US Open, he is confident of performing well at Birkdale a week after playing in the Scottish Open, usually a good omen for him.

“Looking at my last four Open championships before this one, I went and played the Scottish Open twice, and finished second and first at the Open. And the two times I didn’t go I finished around 40th,” said Stenson, who finished tied 26th at Dundonald on Sunday. Stenson has relished the responsibilities of carrying the Claret Jug around the world and he was sad to hand it back to the tournament organisers this week.

“It had become like part of the family,” he said. “It’s an iconic trophy. It’s been the busiest year, but also the best year in my professional career. It was certainly a dream come true winning The Open Championship last year.”

Stenson took the Claret Jug jet-skiing and if he repeats his triumph he has more unusual plans.

“I’m going sky-diving with it,” he said. “And I don’t know which is going to be harder, winning the Claret Jug again or going sky-diving afterwards, because that thought scares me a little bit. It won’t stop me from trying to win it, though.”