Five players had a chance to win in the final hour. Four had at least a share of the lead at one point.
One swing changed everything.
“The shot of the day,” Stenson said.
He drilled a 5-wood from 259 yards to within inches of the hole for a tap-in eagle on the par-5 15th, going from a 1-shot deficit to a 1-shot lead. Three pars gave him a 6-under 66 and a victory in the Hero World Challenge he might not have seen coming.
Stenson tied for 44th two weeks ago in Dubai and spent a few hours on the range that afternoon with swing coach Pete Cowen. He carried some of that to the Bahamas, and his nerves held up at Albany Golf Club.
“Sometimes, just keep on working hard and grinding it out,” Stenson said. “Confidence can still be a little higher, but I’m really happy with the way I hung in there.”
Woods fell out with a chip that didn’t make it up the slope on the 14th hole, and he had to scramble for bogey. Justin Thomas had a pair of 12-foot birdie putts burn the edge. Defending champion Jon Rahm, in his final event before getting married in Spain, appeared to seize control with a birdie-eagle-birdie stretch to take the lead on the 16th hole.
And then Stenson struck the decisive blow with his 5-wood. He knew it was good. He couldn’t see beyond a dune as it bounced onto the green, tracked toward the hole and settled about 8 inches away for eagle.
That took him to 1 shot ahead, and he closed with three pars.
Rahm had to settle for two pars to close out his 66.
Stenson won for the first time in 50 tournaments worldwide, a drought dating to the Wyndham Championship in August 2017. His world ranking plunged from No. 6 to No. 40.
“It’s down, but it’s not a disaster,” Stenson said of his ranking. “I can compete with the best, and I guess I showed that.”
Patrick Reed, under scrutiny for improving his line of play in a waste area Friday that led to a 2-shot penalty, shook that off for a 66 to finish alone in third.
Woods hasn’t won his holiday event since 2011, and he put himself in position with timely birdies while playing alongside Thomas. It looked like quite a battle with Woods setting the pace early, and Thomas catching and passing him with an 8-foot eagle putt on the 11th hole.
But that was as good as it got for both of them.
Woods tried to drive the par-4 14th hole and wound up in the waste area with a bad lie. He sent that over the green, and his chip up the slope wasn’t hard enough and came back down the hill. His fourth shot barely made it onto the green and he holed a 15-foot putt to escape with bogey.
But he spent more time in the waste area on the par-5 15th and had to scramble for par, and that was the end of his chances. Woods closed with a 69.
His only victory — a hollow one — was finishing with a lower score than Thomas for the first time in some 15 pairings together. Even that required a double-bogey by Thomas on the last hole, giving him a 70.
“I don’t think that’s how we wanted it to end up,” Woods said with a laugh. “If I was going to get him, it would have been nice for either of us to have a chance to win the tournament.”
U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, who started the final round with a 1-shot lead, ran into trouble chipping up the slope on the par-5 third hole and made double bogey. He never recovered, shot 73 and tied for seventh.
The World Challenge was just the first stop for 11 of the Americans in the field.
They had a few hours to get changed for a charter flight from the Bahamas to Australia for the Presidents Cup, which starts Thursday with Woods as the first playing captain in 25 years.
Stenson and Rahm finished 1-2 with no interest in the matches between Americans and players from countries outside Europe.
Stenson wants to patch up his game, and this was a big step. After five straight years in the top 10, the 43-year-old Swede is eager to get back.