Golf-Stenson happy to shake off ’emotional’ week to lead at Bedminster

(Reuters) – Henrik Stenson said he was pleased with his LIV Golf debut after overcoming an “emotional” week to take a three-shot lead heading into Sunday’s final round at the Bedminster, New Jersey event, 10 days after being stripped of Europe’s Ryder Cup captaincy.

The Swede offset a double bogey on the third hole with an eagle putt and then carded four birdies for a 2-under 69 at a windy Trump National Golf Club to go three shots clear of former world number one Dustin Johnson.

Stenson said on Thursday that the money on offer at the Saudi-funded series played a part in his switch to the breakaway circuit and looks poised to make the move pay off by taking home the $4 million prize.

“It’s certainly been a busy and emotional week, or 10 days, no question,” Stenson, 46, told reporters on Saturday.

“But I was very happy with how I managed to channel the concentration and go out and play the best round of the season yesterday,” added Stenson, who made eight birdies for a 7-under 64 on his return to golf on Friday.

“I didn’t have my best stuff today, but I was still focused and (had a) good attitude. That’s what kept me in the ballgame… Overall, I’m pleased, and we’re at the races.”

Asked if he had a chip on his shoulder about the Ryder Cup captaincy decision, Stenson looked at both of his shoulders and replied: “I don’t see any.”

Stenson, who triumphed at the 2016 British Open with a record score, is ranked 173rd in the world and has not won on the PGA Tour since 2017.

LIV’s third event in Bedminster has attracted protests from 9/11 survivors and victims’ families, who criticized the golfers for their willingness to play in the league and former president Donald Trump for hosting the event.

On Friday, two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson became the latest big name to join the invitational series, which critics say amounts to blatant “sportswashing” by a nation trying to improve its reputation in light of its history of human rights abuses.

(Reporting by Hritika Sharma in Hyderabad; Editing by Himani Sarkar)