His girlfriend might have suffered the indignity of being robbed in New York last week but it was European Tour Member Henrik Stenson himself who stole the limelight at Firestone Country Club, carding an excellent four under par 66 to share the first round lead with World Numbers One and Two Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh in the World Golf Championships – NEC Invitational.
The trio moved one shot clear of another three players, Stenson’s European Tour colleague Nick Dougherty of England and Americans Chris DiMarco and Davis Love III in the race for the €1,046,024 (£716,332) first prize on offer in the second WGC event of 2005.
Ironically Stenson – a two time winner on The European Tour International Schedule – might have led outright on his debut in the WGC arena, but fell back alongside his illustrious co-leaders thanks to an untidy finish to his round, bogeying the sixth and seventh holes after finding the rough and a greenside bunker respectively.
“Obviously you can make bogeys at any time of the round although they seem slightly more disappointing when they happen at the end,” he said. “But overall I cannot complain with my start.
“It feels good and I know I can play a good game of golf and compete round here and I’m just going to try and do that for the next three days as well. I’ve had a good season in Europe so far and I’m looking forward to the rest of the week.”
Stenson’s girlfriend had her purse stolen by two women while the two dined in a Manhattan restaurant during a break from last week’s US Open Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey.
“It was a bit of a shock but she is all right,” he said. “She thought she felt something brush past her when we were eating and then later we found it gone. We cancelled the cards and that is the best we could do because there was no chance of getting them back.”
The incident certainly did not adversely affect the 29 year old Swede who completed four round at Baltusrol and showed again his ability to fit into the big tournament atmosphere with seven birdies in total, the most audacious coming from fully 60 feet at the short fifth.
“You are always surprised when you make a 60 footer,” he said. “Even though that is always the goal over a putt like that, it only happens one out of every hundred times – put it this way, my caddie said it was the longest putt he has ever attended which has gone in.”
World Number One Woods was the first person to post the mark of 66, the 29 year old the model of consistency with 14 pars and four birdies on his card, the last coming at the 484 yard ninth hole where a massive drive left him a mere wedge to 15 feet and one putt.
“I hit some good shots today and some bad ones as well but the bad ones weren’t really that bad,” he said. “They were just off the green and left me easy chips where I could even look at chipping them in. All in all I’m very pleased.”
Singh followed Woods shortly afterwards, his only bogey of the day coming at the 18th – his ninth hole of the day after having started at the tenth – but the Fijian more than made up for that with five birdies elsewhere, including immediately three in a row from the first.
“I played well today and struck the ball well especially on the front nine which was my back nine,” he said. “I hit a lot of fairways out there and I hit a lot of greens too and that was important because this is definitely a course where you have to manage your game very carefully.”
Of the trio who finished on 67, Dougherty was the most pleased after grinding out a score despite not being 100 per cent pleased with his overall ball striking. The Englishman dropped a shot at the last but admitted he was satisfied with his opening effort.
“I am really pleased with the score because I am fighting my swing a little bit at the moment and that is what happened when I made bogey at the 18th, I just hit it left off the tee,” he said. “But all in all I did some good scrambling when I had to and I made the putts I was supposed to, so I am pretty happy.”
On a good opening day for The European Tour contingent overall, Sergio Garcia and Nick O’Hern shared seventh place after carding respective 68s, while Luke Donald moved alongside Chris Riley and newly crowned US PGA Champion Phil Mickelson on 69.