It isn’t just the weather and good life that prompted Henrik Stenson to set up base here a decade back. The Emirates Golf Club suited his game, and was the clinching factor when he was on the lookout for a warm location outside Orlando, Florida.
With time, familiarity has grown, and now the world No 4 terms it his home course after Barseback in Sweden. After winning the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in 2007, and a couple of other strong finishes against his name, Stenson knows a thing or two here, and among them is landing the ball on the fairway.
“You’ve got to hit the fairways most of the times (otherwise it’s playing off the sand), and that’s something I normally do pretty well.
“Position yourself on the greens and then you’ve got to roll in,” he said after firing a five-under 67 to be three shots shy of the leader Sergio Garcia. There were some wayward drives at the start, but Stenson managed to assume control.
Pace of play was the key on Saturday after the second round was disrupted by strong winds. Playing behind the leader group, Stenson, like Garcia, birdied the 18th in almost pitch darkness. Though pleased at the outcome, he also listed the perils.
“It’s good to end solid, but in the bid to quicken pace there’s always the danger of dropping a shot or two,” said Stenson. Happy to force his way into the leader group for Sunday, the intent will now be to put pressure on Garcia.
To aid his cause, there is plenty of help around him. A lot of the trophies won over the years are on display here, and Stenson admitted it gave a warm feeling.
“Coming off my best year (he won The Open and European Tour’s order of merit), it (the trophies) gives you a quick moment to reflect on a great career,” said the 41-year-old.
The venue is close to the heart for another reason. Mike Gerbich, a former captain at the club, passed away the week Stenson won The Open. Teary-eyed, he dwelled at length on their association in his victory speech.
This week too, Gerbich and his contribution to the sport in these parts came up. As the unofficial host of the pro-am, Stenson spoke fondly about him.
If Stenson were to win on Sunday, “the feeling of being home and seeing familiar faces” will find mention once more, as will the man who stood by him for long.