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Stenson shoots 66 to blow away field at Players

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Henrik Stenson gained fame when he stripped down to his underwear and played from a muddy water hazard at Doral two months ago.

The only thing the Swede showed off Sunday at The Players Championship was his game.

And with it, he pretty much undressed the field.

Stenson was nearly perfect in the final round, shooting a 6-under 66 that gave him a four-shot victory against the strongest and deepest field in golf. It was the 10th win of his career and by far his biggest.

"This is obviously going to be the latest thing on the resume," Stenson said.

Trailing by five shots on the treacherous TPC Sawgrass, he took advantage of a swift and shocking collapse by Alex Cejka, never had to worry about Tiger Woods, and blew away everyone else in firm, fast conditions rarely seen this side of a major.

"Pretty incredible," Woods said. "He played great. We all know he's got all the talent in the world to do this. It was just a matter of time before he put it together. To do it on this stage was pretty impressive."

The stage initially belonged to Cejka, who started the day with a five-stroke lead - the largest after 54 holes in the tournament's 36-year history.

It was gone in about an hour.

Cejka was 5 over through his first six holes, sending him tumbling down the leaderboard. He shot 42 on the front and wound up with a 79.

"It was one of these days where nothing is going your way," Cejka said.

Focus quickly shifted to Woods and whether he could rally to win from five shots behind as he did at Bay Hill. Not this time. Woods missed three fairways that led to bogeys on the front nine, and trailed by as many as eight shots after the turn.

"When you're playing a golf course like this and you don't have it, and the greens are this fast and this hard, you can shoot some pretty high numbers," he said.

Woods managed a 73 to finish eighth, his first top 10 at the Players since he won in 2001, and his 16th consecutive top 10 in stroke-play events worldwide.

Stenson had a four-shot leading standing on the 17th tee. His only mission the rest of the way was to keep his ball in play. He made it look easy, maintaining his bogey-free round and then walking off the 18th green with his daughter in his arms.

"It's just going to give me a lot of confidence to go out there and control myself and play as well as I did on the last day at TPC Sawgrass and to hold off such a strong field," he said. "It's just going to give me a lot of confidence going into the majors. Obviously, if I can play as well as I did today, I surely can do it on a Sunday at the majors."

Stenson finished at 12-under 276 and earned $1.71 million for a victory that moves him to No. 5 in the world ranking.

John Mallinger (70) and Kevin Na (70) tied for third. They were among a dozen players who had hopes of winning on the back nine, one of the most unpredictable stretches in golf.

Stenson never gave anyone much hope. His 66 matched the best score of the final round - Aaron Baddeley also had a 66 with the first tee time of the day - and was nearly 7.5 strokes better than the field average.

Stenson missed only one fairway, and the only times he came remotely close to a bogey, he holed par putts of 8 feet on the front nine.

Stenson rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt from just short of the seventh green and joined a four-way tie atop the leaderboard that included Poulter, Ben Crane and Retief Goosen. Stenson took the outright lead with a two-putt birdie from 55 feet on the fringe at the ninth.

It was over a short time later.

Stenson hammered a tee shot - the only time he hit a driver in the final round - on the par-5 11th, hit a 4-iron to a front bunker and blasted out to 6 feet for birdie. He took aim at the flag on the par-3 13th for a 10-footer, then seized control for good after watching Poulter celebrate a birdie on the 15th to pull within two shots.

Stenson hit his wedge to 21/2 feet to match him, then reached the par-5 16th in two for another birdie. And once his ball found the island green at No. 17, he could relax.

"It just seems to bring the best out of me when I have to, playing the best players," said Stenson, whose other U.S. victory came at the Accenture Match Play Championship two years ago. He also won in Dubai, finishing two shots ahead of Woods. "Obviously, now I feel like I'm up there where I belong when I'm playing good."