ABU DHABI: Henrik Stenson started his new season in the same dominant fashion that helped him become the European number one in 2016, shooting a bogey-free eight-under par 64 to take a two-shot lead Thursday (Friday in Manila) in the $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
The Swedish world number four was one of the early starters, paired with reigning US Open and Masters champions Dustin Johnson and Danny Willett, and made full use of the calm conditions and a receptive golf course to record eight birdies.
Germany’s Martin Kaymer — the most successful player in the history of the tournament with three wins — was among a group of four players tied for second place at six-under par 66.
Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Scotland’s Marc Warren and England’s Oliver Fisher were the other players alongside Kaymer.
England’s Tyrrell Hatton also made a bright start with a five-under par 67. He was joined there by in-form Spaniard Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Frenchman Julien Quesne and England’s Tommy Fleetwood.
The 42-year-old Stenson, who has played all 11 previous editions of the tournament and holds the course record of 62, began in brilliant fashion covering his first nine holes in six-under par.
He then made six consecutive pars on his back nine, before finishing with two birdies in the last three holes.
“Must be the lack of practice that does it … lack of sleep, lack of practice,” said Stenson, who arrived in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday after being voted Swedish Male Athlete of the Year.
“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.
“It seems like whatever I did at the back end of last year, seemed to be working still. If you finish off playing pretty good like I did in the Bahamas in Tiger’s Hero World Challenge (finished second), there’s nothing that says you can’t pick it up where you left it.”
Kaymer, winner in 2008, 2009 and 2011, started with two birdies in his first two holes, and even though he matched Stenson for number of birdies, the two-time major champion also made two bogeys.
A satisfied Kaymer said: “Some golf courses, you need to work hard to shoot 4- or 5-under par. This golf course, for me, doesn’t feel like I need to do a lot of special things in order to play well, because I usually putt well on these greens.
“It doesn’t feel like a hard-working day. I just like a lot of the tee shots. They really suit my eye, and again, if you are making putts, you do score well.”
World number three Johnson and compatriot and defending champion Rickie Fowler both endured a slow start and were even-par 72.
Willett, who made a triple bogey seven on the 14th hole, started with a 74.