Henrik Stenson of Sweden watches his shot from a sand trap on the ninth hole during the first round of the Tour Championship golf tournament at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. (REUTERS: Tami Chappell)
ATLANTA — In-form Swede Henrik Stenson, boosted by a red-hot front nine, totally upstaged his playing partner Tiger Woods as he surged into a one-shot lead in Thursday’s opening round of the elite Tour Championship.
In glorious sunshine with barely a breath of wind at East Lake Golf Club in the PGA Tour’s season finale, Stenson piled up five birdies in six holes with a superb exhibition of pinpoint approach play on the way to a six-under-par 64.
Though he dropped his only shot of the day at the par-four 16th, where he found the right rough off the tee and missed the green with his approach, he signed off in style with a four-foot birdie putt at the last.
Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia, who reeled off six birdies in seven holes from the 10th, was alone in second after firing a 65, finishing a stroke in front of Americans Billy Horschel and Steve Stricker.
Another American, Roberto Castro, opened with a 67 at East Lake where FedExCup playoff honours and the eye-popping $10 million bonus are also on the line, offering huge added incentive to the 30-man field.
It was not a day to remember, though, for FedExCup points leader Woods who failed to register a single birdie while making three bogeys on the way to a 73, ending the round in 29th place with only PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner (74) below him.
It was the first time Woods had completed a round on the PGA Tour without a birdie since his opening round at the 2010 U.S. Open, and only the eighth time during his career on the U.S. circuit.
Seeking a sixth PGA Tour victory this year, Woods missed a six-foot birdie putt at the par-four first, then bogeyed the tricky par-four fifth after hitting his approach into a greenside bunker to reach the turn in one over.
He also dropped shots at the 10th, where his tee shot sailed way right, and at the 14th, where he missed the fairway to the left and overshot the green with his second, to slide further down the leaderboard.
His playing partner Stenson, however, commanded the spotlight after his electrifying start, despite having come into this event with concern over tendinitis in his left wrist which developed during last week’s BMW Championship in Chicago.
The Swede launched his birdie blitz by hitting his tee shot to six feet at the par-three second and knocking in the putt, then picked up another stroke at the fourth where his approach finished just eight inches from the cup.
Stenson, who won the Deutsche Bank Championship earlier this month, struck his second shot to four feet at the fifth, his tee shot to within two feet at the sixth and sank his longest birdie putt of the round at the seventh, a nine-footer.
“That stretch from (hole) one to seven is as good as I can hit it,” Stenson told reporters after mixing seven birdies with a lone bogey on a long and tight East Lake layout.
Out in a sizzling five-under 30, Stenson also birdied the 15th before offsetting his bogey on 16 with a birdie at the last.
The Swede was ranked second in the FedExCup standings at the start of the week and, along with the other members of the top five - Woods, Scott, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar - would automatically secure the playoff trophy with victory on Sunday.