Henrik Stenson celebrated his first competitive round of 2017 with a flawless 64 despite having “limited preparation” ahead of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Stenson outplayed his fellow major champions Danny Willett and Dustin Johnson on the opening day of the Desert Swing, racing to the turn in 30 and picking up two more birdies over his last three holes to earn a two-shot lead on eight under par.
The Open champion started with a solid four at the long 10th and converted excellent approaches to the 12th and 13th before missing the green with his second to 14, although he atoned with a sublime chip-in for his third birdie in a row.
He rolled in another confident putt at the 17th and two-putted for another gain at 18, but the putts dried up on the front nine as he posted six consecutive pars before breaking the run with a superb mid-iron to eight feet at the tricky seventh. Stenson finished in grand style with his eighth birdie of the round at the ninth before telling Sky Sports that he came into the event vastly under-prepared.
“Lack of sleep, lack of practice,” said the Swede.
“I’m delighted with that score. I think I scored a bit better than I played, but I kept it under control somewhat and hit a couple of close iron shots and made the putts. There wasn’t too much stress out there.
“I have been working on my putting and some short game, and I hit a couple of buckets last week. Then I flew to Sweden for the sports awards, and I came down here on Tuesday morning. So it was very limited preparation, that might be the way forward, I don’t know.
“I just want to keep on developing my game, keep on working hard on that, and come into the majors well prepared and well rested and try and put myself in contention. I feel like I can get the Claret Jug some company if I do that. I’m going to try my hardest.
“I put a really good score together out there, and the putter was working well. I kept it tidy, chipped in once when I missed the green and a couple up-and-downs, and it’s a very good start to the year.”