Sat, Sep 26, 2015 - Page 18 News List

Stenson takes two-stroke Tour Championship lead


Sweden’s Henrik Stenson lines up his putt on the 16th green in the first round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

Henrik Stenson upstaged his rivals on the opening day of the US$8.25 million Tour Championship on Thursday, firing a seven-under-par 63 to snatch a two-shot lead over England’s Paul Casey.

The pre-tournament hype had focused on the prospect of a battle between golf’s “New Big Three” of world No. 1 Jason Day, reigning Masters and US Open champion Jordan Spieth and four-time major-winner Rory McIlroy.

However, it was Swedish veteran Stenson who seized his chance to shine at the PGA Tour’s season finale, opening with consecutive birdies at the first three holes before a further birdie and an eagle left him six-under at the turn.

Another birdie on the 10th raised the tantalizing prospect of Stenson breaking 60, and that rare feat looked within his grasp after he drained a six-foot birdie putt at the 12th to go eight-under with six to play.

However Stenson was unable to pick up any more shots and bogeyed the 17th to fall back to seven-under — two clear of Casey who shot 65.

“At that stage I was just trying to get up and hit the fairways, give yourself chances, because they’re tricky holes,” Stenson said of the finishing holes on the par-70 East Lake Golf Club course. “It’s all about just keeping it going.”

“I didn’t quite hit it as good the last five or six holes as I did for the first 12, but if I could have that [two-stroke] spread for the next three days, I think I’ll take it,” he added.

Meanwhile, McIlroy was three off the lead with a four-under-par 66 after six birdies and two bogeys. Zach Johnson was level with McIlroy on four-under.

Spieth was in a group of six players five shots off the lead at two-under after carding a 68. Spieth never managed to get his putter going on a frustrating front nine, sinking only one birdie to be one-under at the turn. The Texan holed a 10-footer to pick up a birdie on the 12th, but his momentum was undone by a bogey on the next hole. He improved his score with a birdie on the 15th, coolly dropping a 13-foot putt for birdie.

“Today was definitely an off day and I was able to get in at two-under,” Spieth said. “This is a round that earlier in the playoffs was a four-over round. So I really improved the consistency, even on my misses. And that gives me confidence.”

World No. 1 Day was a shot behind Spieth after a round that promised so much finished in an ultimately disappointing 69.

The in-form Aussie had looked to be the player to beat after notching birdies on the first three holes of the day. However, a disastrous triple-bogey on the par-four fifth negated his good early work and, although he picked up a birdie on the eighth, the opportunity of a low score remained elusive.

Day and his rivals are all chasing the US$10 million bonus on offer to the winner of the FedEx Cup playoff points race.

Five other players, including Rickie Fowler, were grouped with Day at 69.

Stenson, the 2013 playoff champion, is trying to join Tiger Woods as the only players to win the FedEx Cup twice.

He liked his chances of keeping things going at East Lake.

“It’s definitely a ball-striking golf course,” Stenson said. “And when I’m hitting it nicely, it’s always going to work for me. It’s always going to suit me.”

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