Saturday 24 March 2018

Stenson sets hot pace with opening 64 in Abu Dhabi

Henrik Stenson. Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Henrik Stenson. Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images

William S Callahan

Henrik Stenson's opening 64 in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship does not guarantee a victory on Sunday, but it was a fine start for the Open champion who had little time for pre-event practice.

Stenson played almost on auto-pilot as he had little time to refresh himself after a trip from his Orlando base to Sweden followed by a long-haul flight to the UAE for the tournament.

The Swede was in Stockholm on Monday night for a national sports awards function at which he was named 'Male Athlete of the Year' in honour of his Open Championship victory at Royal Troon last July. Next day he travelled to Abu Dhabi, arriving on Tuesday.

Two nights out of three on a plane - not the ideal preparation for competing in a world-class golf tournament, and Stenson even surprised himself with his opening eight-under-par score yesterday.

"Must be the lack of practice that does it. Lack of sleep, lack of practice," he quipped.

On a serious note he said: "I'm delighted with that score. I think I scored a bit better than what I played, but I kept it under control somewhat and hit a couple of close iron shots and made the putts.

"And yeah, it wasn't too much stress out there."

His assessment was a change from the more common reflection of golfers who often feel they "played better than they scored" and Stenson was very satisfied with his performance on and around the greens.

"The putter was working. I kept it tidy. Chipped in once when I missed the green and a couple of up-and-downs, and so not too much stress, and very good start to the year," he said.

Martin Kaymer, who has won the tournament three times, was joint second on 66 alongside Oliver Fisher, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Marc Warren.

Ireland's Paul Dunne shot a 68, carding five birdies and just one bogey on his four-under-par round.

The Greystones golfer played par golf until he finally notched a birdie four on the eighth hole, but he caught fire on the back nine and reeled off four successive birdies on holes 10-13 inclusive. His only dropped shot came on the 17th with a bogey five.

Much was expected of the 2016 winner Rickie Fowler and reigning US Open champion Dustin Johnson, but they failed to deliver the level of golf which they and the galleries expected. The two Americans were in a group of 20 players bracketed on level-par 72.

Lee Westwood had to make an emergency caddie replacement after his regular bagman Billy Foster was called home to Yorkshire on Monday because of the death of his father.

Westwood's girlfriend Helen Storey stepped forward to carry out the duties and the Englishman clearly wasn't distracted by the change, carding a first round 68. Masters champion Danny Willett came to Abu Dhabi hoping to put a run of bad form behind him, but the Englishman got little encouragement from an opening 74.

Former Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke shot 75 and will struggle to make the cut.

Phil Mickelson, who went head-to-head with Stenson in that thrilling final round at Troon, opened his 2017 schedule at the CareerBuilder Challenge in La Quinta, California yesterday.

Ireland's Seamus Power was among the later starters.

Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Live, Sky Sports 4, 7.0am

CareerBuilder Challenge

Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.0pm

Irish Independent

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