Henrik Stenson looked like he couldn’t miss Thursday in the Tour Championship. Tiger Woods didn’t make a thing.
Stenson ran off five birdies over a six-hole stretch on the front nine at East Lake. His last birdie,a 5-iron from 223 yards to 4 feet on the par-3 18th hole,gave him a 6-under 64 and a one-shot lead over Masters champion Adam Scott.
Scott made six birdies in seven holes for a 29 on the back nine. There were birdies galore on a warm,relatively calm afternoon at East Lake,except for Woods. Woods missed a short birdie putt on his opening hole that set the tone for the day. He was the only player in the 30-man field to go without a birdie.
It was only the seventh time in his PGA Tour career,and third time at East Lake,that he went an entire round without a birdie. Woods shot a 73,matching his highest opening round of the year on the PGA Tour. He walked past reporters without comment.
The No. 2-seeded Stenson,the hottest player in golf over the last three months,and Scott (No. 3) only have to win the Tour Championship to capture the FedEx Cup and the $10 million prize.
Stenson began his big run with four straight tournaments in the top 3,including two majors and a World Golf Championship,and then won the Deutsche Bank Championship. But he was coming off a mediocre performance in the BMW Championship last week that left him so angry he smashed and broke his driver on the final hole,and then smashed up a locker at Conway Farms.
Plus,he was coping with a sore wrist from last weekend that hurt so much he only played nine holes this week in practice. “I really knew I had to be in a good frame of mind coming out there if I wanted to play good golf this week,” Stenson said. Asked how he could go from the joy of winning a FedEx Cup playoff event to losing his temper in one tournament,Stenson replied,”I can tell you don’t have much experience with Swedes,do you?”
In his Tour Championship debut,his head was in the right place,his wrist felt fine and Stenson was on top of his game like never before. He had one stretch of three birdies all within 4 feet,capped off by a 6-iron from 207 yards over water to a right pin that settled a foot away. And he did it all in the presence of Woods,the No. 1 player in the world.
“Normally,he’s doing it to everyone else,” Stenson said. Seventeen players broke par in the opening round. Woods wasn’t alone in his struggles. Phil Mickelson switched to the claw grip midway through his round and nothing seemed to help. He had a 71. Nick Watney,coming off a runner-up finish in Chicago just to get into the Tour Championship,had a 72. PGA champion Jason Dufner was in last place at 74.
A tale of two nines
Scott also was angry at himself,only because he was giving himself so many chances off the tee and throwing them away with short irons in his hand. He was 1 over at the turn,but two great shots into No. 10,which plays as a par 5 for the members,sent him on his way. His longest putt for those six birdies on the back nine was 12 feet,and Scott had to settle for a two-putt birdie from 10 feet on No. 15.
“It was a tale of two nines,there’s no doubt,” Scott said. “I missed three greens with wedges on the front nine and wasted all my chances to score. I hit two good shots into 10 and rolled a putt in,which calmed me down. And then I just went and played,and played the way I felt I could.”