Henrik Stenson wins the first LIV tournament since he quit and was stripped of the Ryder Cup captaincy

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

Henrik Stenson wins first LIV tour event since stepping down and being stripped of Ryder Cup captaincy – GETTY IMAGES

Henrik Stenson’s decision last week to join the Saudi rebel ring and then all but force Ryder Cup Europe to strip him of the captaincy was hugely controversial. Still, no one can deny that it was also wildly lucrative, with a remarkably quick payoff.

After winning at his debut LIV event here, Stenson, 46, added £3.3m to the £40m he received for breaking the contract he signed to lead his continent into next year’s games in Rome.

“I played like a captain,” Stenson said with a smile. “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 things. I certainly did that this week.

“That’s been a theme throughout my career – when I really want something, I’m able to dig deeper and make it happen. It’s about looking ahead, at least for me, and I’m super proud of the focus I had. »

There was another £305,000, his share of the second team here at Trump National, but in relative terms it’s such a tantalizing sum that it hardly seems worth mentioning (although the eight per cent of this Camelot-style payday is still more than Sean Crocker collected to win 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 off doing so and considering the 2016 Open champion won £10m in two months in 2013 – after winning both the PGA Tour and European Tour end-of-season bonuses – it’s nothing short of ridiculous.

But then, in a tie for sixth, Westwood took home almost £1m, after the team’s earnings alongside Stenson were also taken into account. At 49, the English veteran can hardly believe that he is lucky, and surely no one should ask why he plays LIV.

Stenson’s timing was absolutely invaluable as he shot 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 smile.

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

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

Conveniently, this ignores his signature on that contract which essentially stated that he would not join LIV. “It was a bitter and spiteful 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’s that there’s life left in the old wood, and he can still conjure up fantastic iron shots. This is his first title since December 2019, and while the former world No. 2 will remain anchored outside the top 170 – the LIV events are still waiting to see if the events are approved for world ranking status – there was so much consolation on hand that it was barely enough pockets in New Jersey to stuff it into.

Stenson’s wire-to-wire comeback capped 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 between its third and fourth events.

But while the PGA Tour may be happy for the lull in hostilities as it hosts the £60m play-off, the warning from the Greg Norman company is that in the final week of August, the exodus of big names will reach a new level of controversy.

“There are more things coming,” Norman said. “Put it this way, we wouldn’t have made the announcement earlier about launching the league next year if it wasn’t a very clear indicator of how solid we feel about the players we want for next year.”

With big names like Hideki Matsuyama and Open champion Cam Smith constantly rumoured, as well as many other high-profile contenders, there is a burgeoning theory that a number of heavyweights will be announced after the Tour Championship – which will see the FedEx winner step down with £15m – 28th August and then after the Presidents Cup on 25th September as well.

The LIV campaign reaches its climax on 28-31. October on another Trump course. Doral – the annual Miami stop on the PGA Tour from 1962 to 2016 – will host the team’s £40 million 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 the 54-hole, drawing a bigger crowd than the players themselves, with several hundred gathering outside the clubhouse to catch the occasional glimpse of Trump, as he chanted “four more years.” At times this seemed less like a sporting competition and more like a political rally.

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