By Matt Smith
DUBAI (Reuters) - Henrik Stenson hopes his final round birdie blitz in Turkey last weekend bodes well for his defense of Europe's season-ending $8 million DP World Tour Championship, which starts on Thursday.
Last year, the 38-year-old romped to a six-stroke victory at Dubai’s Earth course that also saw him top the European money list, capping a stellar year in which he also won the U.S. PGA Tour's end-of-season FedExCup.
Stenson has yet to win a tournament this year, but if his final round in Belek is anything to go by, he may be finding form at just the right time.
Stenson bagged nine birdies, including four in his last six holes, for a closing 64 and third place at the Turkish Airlines Open.
“I struggled on the greens the first three days ... (but) it gives the confidence a little boost ,” Stenson told reporters.
“I was putting nicely and I would love to bring some of that momentum in here this week.”
A member of Europe's Ryder Cup winning team, he was also runner-up at the Volvo World Match Play Championship in October and third at the U.S. PGA Championship in August.
“I was battling a bit of fatigue and when you're in a bad spell, you're tired, you don't have the energy to practise and get going. Then it becomes a bad cycle,” said Stenson.
World number one Rory McIlroy is guaranteed top spot on the 2014 European money list after his nearest rivals failed to win in Turkey, but the rest of the top places are up for grabs.
The leading 15 players will split a $5 million bonus pool.
Stenson is second, narrowly ahead of Wales’ Jamie Donaldson, Germany’s Marcel Siem and Spain’s Sergio Garcia.
Stenson has reduced his schedule from 31 tournaments last year to 28 in 2014 and plans to play only 26 next year.
“I found a good rhythm ... giving myself breaks for rest and practise and gym work,” said the world number four. “I had a great formula from 2012 and into 2013. Then I slipped out of that a little bit.”
Stenson said it was vital to be in perfect shape coming into the peak of golf’s season from March to August.
“If you're not feeling reasonably fresh and practiced, then you're trying to catch up throughout that whole period,” said the Swede, who became a father for a third time last month.
“That's what I was this year and I don't want to be the same next year,” added Stenson, who plans to take a five-week break before starting his 2015 season at Abu Dhabi’s HSBC Golf Championship in January.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)