ATLANTA — Henrik Stenson was so flawless that he built a nine-shot lead at the turn Saturday in the Tour Championship.
Four bogeys in the rain on the back nine at East Lake put him right back where he started the day and injected some hope for Dustin Johnson and a few other players.
Stenson made two bogeys on the last three holes — he made a 12-foot par putt on the other — and had to settle for a 1-under 69. That gave him a four-shot lead over Johnson going in to the final day of the PGA Tour season.
This is far from over — not only the Tour Championship, but the FedEx Cup.
Stenson appeared to have both wrapped up when he got up-and-down from a bunker on the par-5 ninth for a tap-in birdie to reach 14 under, nine shots clear of Johnson. Everything changed as the rain began to fall.
Stenson pulled his approach into a corporate hospitality area to the left of the 10th green. He hooked a tee shot on the 14th that ran across a cart path and under a bush, and he had to make a 12-foot putt for bogey. He made bogey from the bunker on the 16th. What really stung was a three-putt bogey on the par-3 18th.
“I think I’ll choose to look at it from the bright side, even though the weather is not that bright at the moment,” Stenson said after setting down a rain-soaked umbrella. “Started the day with a four-shot lead and I still got it. So that’s all that matters really.”
Stenson was at 11-under 199, and everyone except for Johnson (7-under 203) and Steve Stricker (5-under 205) were within six shots of him.
Johnson made two late birdies and two solid pars, getting up-and-down after a close call with the water on the 17th, and then making a 30-foot par save on the last hole for a 67 that put him in the last group and gave him a chance to see who he was chasing.
Johnson was the last man into the 30-man field at East Lake, and he left Chicago on Monday not sure whether he would get in. Now he at least has a shot to start and end the season with a victory.
“If I keep driving it straight, then I’m going to give him a run tomorrow.”
Stenson is still in great shape to go home with a lot of money — $10 million for winning the FedEx Cup, $1.44 million for winning the Tour Championship. Even if he were to finish third, he still would be in good shape to win the FedEx Cup.
Tiger Woods, the No. 1 seed, didn’t make a birdie until he chipped in on the 14th hole. He rallied for a 69, the first time he has broken par all week. Woods was at 3-over 213, 14 shots behind in a tie for 26th.
Among the other FedEx Cup possibilities Sunday:
—Stricker, who had a 68, could win the FedEx Cup by winning the Tour Championship. He could win with a runner-up finish, provided Stenson finished lower than ninth and Zach Johnson — in the group at 4-under 206 — was worse than seventh.
—Zach Johnson, the No. 4 seed, still had a shot at the $10 million even without winning. He was seven shots behind, but one scenario if for him to finish runner-up and Stenson to finish third.
— Yes, even Dustin Johnson is mathematically still alive as the No. 30 seed. He would need to win (possible), have Woods finish last (possible) and make sure Stenson finishes in the 15th place (total long shot). Johnson wasn’t interested in all that math and it wasn’t his field of study at Coastal Carolina, anyway.
“They didn’t require math,” he said.
All he cares about are the scores, and he’s still in with a chance after making up five shots on the back nine. That was mostly Stenson’s doing. The Swede got loose with a few shots, and the rain didn’t help.
“I can’t really complain that it was any tougher for me than for anybody else,” Stenson said. “When you lose a little bit of momentum … it’s just hard to find your rhythm again when you’re kind of jumping in and out from underneath an umbrella and trying to whack it to get back in underneath again. So it’s a little more difficult, but we still kept it together. Like I said, we’ve still got a four-shot lead.”