Henrik Stenson didn’t need a big trophy to prove himself that he belonged among the elite in golf.
After enduring the second slump of his career — the latest a product of bad play more than a lost swing — he began to turn the corner late last year by winning the South African Open. He was back in all the majors again for the first time since 2010. And he was playing better than anyone in the summer.
A runner-up to Phil Mickelson in the British Open and to Tiger Woods in a World Golf Championship. A tie for third in the PGA Championship.
The 37-year-old Swede broke through on Labor Day with his best performance of the year to win the Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton, Mass.
“It’s been long, hard work getting back to this place,” Stenson said. “Playing as well as I’ve done in these last couple of months, there’s no magic, no quick fix. It’s just hard work. It’s been a good four months, and I hope I can keep it going.”
He started the final round two shots behind Sergio Garcia, surged ahead with three straight birdies, came out even sharper after a two-hour rain delay, and put away Steve Stricker by holing a bunker shot on the 17th hole.
Stenson closed with a 5-under 66 for a two-shot victory over Stricker. He didn’t refer to it so much as validation as “icing on the cake.”
“I was longing for a win, and I got it,” said Stenson, who tied a tournament record at 22-under 262 on the rain-softened TPC Boston.
He wasn’t the only guy who felt like a winner, nor was he the only player who felt the nerves.
The Deutsche Bank Championship, the second of four FedEx Cup playoff events, had a little something for everyone on a wild and rainy Monday. It started with Stenson, who moved to No. 1 in the FedEx Cup and is assured a clear shot at the $10 million prize at the Tour Championship.
Stricker’s third runner-up finish this year allowed him to move into the top 10 and qualify for the Presidents Cup team, despite playing a part-time schedule. That put the 10th spot up for grabs between Webb Simpson and Zach Johnson, who were playing together on the other side of the course.
They were tied at 8 under — big advantage to Simpson — until the former U.S. Open champion dropped two shots on the last four holes. Johnson faced a 25-foot birdie putt on his last hole that determined whether he made the team, and he poured it in the middle.
Johnson last week gave up a chance to earn points by skipping The Barclays to be in his brother’s wedding.
Lost in all this commotion was Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old Texan dressed in a shirt with the Dallas Cowboys’ silver-and-blue colors. He went birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle at the end of his round for a 62 right before the rain delay.
With such soft conditions, his 17-under 267 was never going to hold up. Spieth wound up tied for fourth, and is No. 10 in the FedEx Cup standings. He is assured of becoming the first player since Woods in 1996 to start a season with no status and reach the Tour Championship. Woods, however, did it in seven tournaments.
CHAMPIONS: Rocco Mediate ran away with the inaugural Shaw Charity Classic in Calgary, Alberta, for his second victory in 17 starts in his first Champions Tour season.
Mediate, 50, the Allianz Championship winner in February in his first Champions Tour start, closed with a 7-under 64 at tree-lined Canyon Meadows for a seven-stroke victory.
The six-time PGA Tour winner finished at 22-under 191, playing the back nine in 18 under, to tie the tour record for lowest total score in a 54-hole event.
Tom Byrum had a 64 to finish second. Duffy Waldorf and Kirk Triplett tied for third.
WEB.COM: Trevor Immelman rallied to win the Hotel Fitness Championship at Sycamore Hills to lock up a PGA Tour card in the Web.com Tour Finals opener in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Immelman, the South African who won the 2008 Masters, made a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 6-under 66 and a one-stroke victory over Patrick Cantlay.
The top 25 on the Web.com Tour money list last week after the Cox Classic are assured PGA Tour cards for the 2013-14 season, while Nos. 26-75 are fighting with Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings for 25 additional cards in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals series.
LPGA: Suzann Pettersen won the Safeway Classic for the second time in three years Sunday, taking advantage of playing partner Yani Tseng’s final-round collapse at Columbia Edgewater in Portland, Ore.
Three strokes behind leader Tseng entering the round, Pettersen closed with a 5-under 67 for a two-stroke victory over second-ranked Stacy Lewis.
The 32-year-old Norwegian finished at 20-under 268 for her second LPGA Tour victory of the year.
PGA EUROPEAN: France’s Gregory Bourdy birdied the last three holes for a 4-under 67 and a two-stroke victory over American Peter Uihlein in the Wales Open.
Bourdy won his fourth European Tour title and first since the 2009 Hong Kong Open. He finished at 8-under 276 on Celtic Manor’s Twenty Ten Course, the site of the 2010 Ryder Cup.
Uihlein closed with a 72. The former Oklahoma State star and 2010 U.S. Amateur champion won the Madeira Islands Open in May.