Henrik Stenson was the best of those vying to win the European money list with a four-under 68 in Thursday’s first round of the US$8 million DP World Tour Championship, two shots behind surprise leader Alejandro Canizares.
Stenson, England’s Justin Rose and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell can clinch the Race to Dubai, formerly the European Order of Merit, with victory in the season finale.
The Swede — the Race to Dubai leader — sunk three birdies in the opening seven holes and was steady on the back nine, before three-putting on the final hole to end on 68.
Rose finished two-under in a solid, if unspectacular round as he dropped his first shot of the day on the 17th.
McDowell rallied from three-over with successive birdies on holes 14 to 16 to end on par.
England’s Ian Poulter and Welshman Jamie Donaldson, who can also win the money list should they prevail in Dubai and Stenson finishes third or lower, scored 69 and 68 respectively.
However, the day belonged Spain’s 30-year-old Canizares. The world No. 184 matched McDowell’s birdie run from 14 to 16 and dropped just one shot all round to card a 66.
Former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, seeking a first win of the year, sank birdies in three of the opening four holes on a cloudless morning at the Greg Norman-designed Earth course as girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki looked on.
However, bogeys on the fifth and eighth holes stymied McIlroy’s charge, and although the defending Dubai champion birdied the seventh, he dropped another shot after finding the water on the 18th to end on 71.