Stenson jumps into world's top five ... really?

Updated: February 28, 2007, 10:15 AM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

MARANA, Ariz. -- And the Final Jeopardy! answer is: "Ernie Els. Retief Goosen. Vijay Singh."

If you guessed, "Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen?" give yourself partial credit. (And give some props to Cliff Clavin.)

The response we were looking for, however, is, "Who are three players surpassed by Henrik Stenson on the Official World Golf Ranking this weekend?"

With a victory over Geoff Ogilvy in the final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Stenson reached No. 5 in the world, becoming the greatest Swedish import since those tasty little meatballs. Culinary parallels notwithstanding, there are some myths about the man in need of debunking. To wit:

Henrik Stenson
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesStenson closed out his championship match with Ogilvy on the 35th hole.
Stenson wears shades because the future's so bright. (Alas, it's only because his eyes are sensitive to glare.)

He's a modern-day Pierre Fulke, a Swede who reached the Accenture finals in 2001 only to fade away soon thereafter. (No, he's much better than that.)

He's the most popular Swedish athlete today. (Nope, Peter Forsberg is huge in Örnsköldsvik.) He's the most popular Swedish golfer. (Uh-uh, that title belongs to Annika Sorenstam.) He's the most popular Swedish Henrik. (Sorry, that honor goes to Henrik Larsson, the soccer player.)

And one final piece of information we'd like to clear up: Stenson is not one of the world's top five golfers.

Despite what the rankings claim, despite Stenson's most recent accomplishment, we simply refuse to believe he's on the same level as -- or above -- Els, Goosen and Singh, each of whom is a multiple major champion. It wasn't so long ago that golf's top five was a Big Five, a quintet of one-named superstars that played beautiful music together. Now the band has broken up and its remaining members are playing gigs with any dude who crashes the stage.

Faster than you can say "matchspels mästare" -- that's Swedish for Match Play champion -- Stenson has transformed from underrated up-and-comer to overrated overachiever. The world's eighth-ranked player entering the week, he's been golf's version of the Tooth Fairy for most U.S. fans the last few years, doing his most important work while we were sleeping, under a cloak of darkness on the European Tour.

Now Stenson has vaulted himself into the limelight -- behind only Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson, according to the supercomputers that crunch the numbers when college football's BCS is out of session -- though even he's not quite sure it's a place he belongs.

"I can't go straight out and say that I should be No. 5 or No. 6 in the world," Stenson said. "But I feel like I've established myself as a top-20 player."

We couldn't agree more, Henrik. Your fellow Swedes ABBA once sang, "If you change your mind, I'm the first in line," but it may take a little while until we change our mind about your standing amongst the world's elite. And we're not ready to, uh, "take a chance" on Stenson until he's ready to at least contend in a major.

How's he fared at the four biggies so far? Seven starts, five made cuts, no result better than T-14. Whoa. Let's examine that further. The world's fifth-ranked player has competed in a total of ... seven majors? Guys like Ernie and Veej have forgotten more major championships than Stenson has seen, but he's ranked higher. Sure, we can see the logic in that.

Of course, Stenson's first major win will likely also be Sweden's first major win. The country is now 0-for-399 all-time in the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. (And you thought Mickelson had an unfortunate streak going there for a while.)

"We've got the world's best out there for the majors," said Stenson, who was a 36-hole co-leader at last year's PGA before shooting 73-72 over the weekend. "We know a few of them sort of put in subscriptions on the tournaments, as well. It's not obviously big chances that you're going to win, but you can just try and put yourself into position coming Sunday. And if it's there, it's there."

Look, let's not take anything away from Stenson, who was more unyielding on the course this week than any cactus in the neighboring Marana desert. On his road to victory, he defeated one major champion, a Ryder Cupper and a handful of PGA Tour winners.

This is a guy who couldn't put a golf ball into play just six years ago. He has a sense of humor about it now -- "when your caddie is rattling in the pocket to see if he's got a provisional when you're standing over the drive, you know you've got some sort of problem," he said on Sunday -- but 2001 was a space odyssey for Stenson.

Meanwhile, those guys he passed this weekend -- Els, Goosen and Singh -- were in the midst of winning a combined eight major titles. They may never have been in your kitchen, but Henrik Stenson just moved into their neighborhood.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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