Henrik Stenson still not fully fit for Valspar bid


Henrik Stenson plays in the Valspar Championship this weekend despite having not fully recovered from illness
Henrik Stenson plays in the Valspar Championship this weekend despite having not fully recovered from illness

OPEN champion Henrik Stenson has not fully recovered from the stomach virus which forced him out of the WGC-Mexico Championship as he seeks a first win of the season in the Valspar Championship.

Stenson was one of several players to be taken ill in Mexico City and withdrew from the £7.9million event after 12 holes of his opening round at Chapultepec Golf Club.

But the 41-year-old Swede is looking forward to returning to action at the Innisbrook Resort in Florida, where he was fourth in 2015 – a shot outside the three-man play-off – and 11th last year.

"It's good to be back," said the world number six, who has finished runner-up three times and recorded three other top-nine finishes in his last six completed events.

"It's a golf course I think suits my game pretty well as the two previous visits have shown, and I hope I can be there on Sunday afternoon with a chance to win.

"It's a second-shot golf course. It's the five, six, seven, eight irons into the greens, and when I'm hitting it well, then that's the strong part of my game. So it's going to set up a lot of birdie chances.

"It's the beginning of a stretch of tournaments leading into Augusta, so we want to try to get to the Masters in the right direction with where the game is at and what we need to keep on working on leading into the first major of the year."

Speaking about his health at a pre-tournament press conference, Stenson added: "I'm not 100 per cent. If you have a stomach upset or bug, it takes a little while to complete.

"I'm eating some probiotics, and we can still feel a little rumbling here and there. I don't think we need to go into more details than that.

"I went back to Orlando that Friday and had the weekend at home, just kind of regrouped a little bit. I was feeling better. My caddie started to feel worse, so he was not in a good state on Friday evening.

"I spoke to my coach (Pete Cowen) earlier, who was in Mexico, and he's not in the best shape either, back in England. Unfortunately it was a lot of players, caddies and other people around that got upset stomachs last week. That's just the way it goes sometimes."

Stenson will play the first two rounds alongside defending champion Charl Schwartzel and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, with Ryder Cup star Patrick Reed drawn alongside 2018 US captain Jim Furyk and Ernie Els.

HOME favourite and former champion Anirban Lahiri believes the players face a journey into the unknown following a change of venue for the Hero Indian Open.

The tournament will be played on the Gary Player Course at DLF Golf and Country Club for the first time after moving across the city from its traditional home at Delhi Golf Club.

The course features large rock formations, undulating greens and cavernous bunkers, with the Hero Women's Open won with totals of level par in 2015 and three under in 2016.

Lahiri has finished no lower than 15th in his last six appearances in his national Open and needs to be in the top two this week to qualify for the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

"I think it's a blank sheet for everyone," said Lahiri, who won the title in 2015 and was second to SSP Chawrasia last year. "Nobody really knows what to expect.

"At least as far as the whole field is concerned, no one is going out there saying 'I've got to shoot a number', you are going to try to gauge it as you go along.

"The dynamics of it is very different from Delhi Golf Club, which has been the home of the Indian Open for many years. You do need length, to be able to control the ball in the wind. It's going to need a lot more versatility. I keep saying it's a ball-striker's golf course.

"My primary target is obviously Augusta (for the Masters), but yes I would love to play the Match Play. I played Austin Country Club last year and I really liked the golf course. I like the layout. But more than anything else I like how I'm playing right now. You want to play all of these events when you are playing well."

Australia's Scott Hend can also qualify for the Match Play, by finishing in the top six, with the world's top 50 on March 27 also securing an invite to the Masters.

The world number 69, who was 65th in a 77-man field in the WGC-Mexico Championship, said: "If I can get into the Match Play, then I might get a chance to get into the Masters.

"Last week I sort of ruined it for myself as I didn't handle the course very well. There were a lot of world ranking points up for grabs there and I managed to get zero. If I can have a decent finish here and get into the Match Play, then possibly I can force my way into the Masters."