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Henrik Stenson eager for return to action

Henrik Stenson, riding the crest of a golfing wave after winning the two biggest titles of his career last month, is not as sharp as he would like for this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The Swede, who climbed to a career-high fifth in the world after clinching the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona 16 days ago, has just recovered from a bout of flu.

"I haven't played much golf since the Match Play," European number one Stenson told reporters at the Bay Hill Club on Tuesday during preparation for Thursday's first round.

"I had a couple of days off and then I got sick, seemed to catch the bug like a lot of others.

"I've played only 18 holes since the Match Play and maybe had a little too much rest. Hopefully I'll be up and running by Thursday."

With the first major of the season looming large, Stenson is excited by the prospect of claiming his first top-10 finish in one of golf's 'blue riband' events.

He shone in last year's PGA Championship at Medinah, where he tied for 14th, and believes the marked improvement in his skill on and around the green will help him considerably at next month's Masters.

"I've definitely raised my short game a level or two over the last couple of years," the 30-year-old from Gothenburg said. "If I hit the ball well, I can see myself being in good position off the tee at Augusta.

"I haven't been top 10 in a major yet, so I'd like to take things step-by-step. At Augusta, if I can play pretty good and make it to the top 10, I think I'll be pretty satisfied when the week is over, playing only my second Masters."

The Masters, the opening major of the year, takes place at Augusta National from April 5-8.

"I'm not saying that if Sunday comes and I'm in a good position, I'm not going to try and take it," added Stenson, a six-times winner on the European Tour.

"I know I can shoot some good numbers and I've proven that I can win some pretty big golf tournaments. Hopefully I can continue to do so.

Stenson said the biggest thing to get used to at Augusta was the breaking putts, being able to hit the shorter putts with a lot of break.

"You can have a five-footer and you need to go two feet right or left of the hole. Coming from Europe, we're used to slightly flatter greens and I can hit it with a little bit more pace, going for the kill a little bit more straight at it. There you need to be careful."

Stenson, who held off Tiger Woods and Ernie Els to win last month's Dubai Desert Classic, knows the key to success is getting into contention as regularly as possible.

"The more times you put yourself in the situation to win tournaments and the more times you win, the more experience you gain from it and the more confident you get," he said.

"If it's your day and you do the right things, then you come out on top."

March 14, 2007


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