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Thursday, 22 March 2007

Henrik Stenson continued his recent love affair with the World Golf Championships by firing a five under par 67 that earned the Swede a share of the first round lead with Australian Robert Allenby at Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami. The pair enjoyed a one stroke advantage over Denmark’s Thomas Björn at the end of a pleasing day for the European Tour contingent in the 73-man elite field.

Gusting winds and intermittent showers gave the famed Blue Monster course extra teeth for the opening of the WGC – CA Championship but it offered little protection against the talents of an in-form Stenson.

The winner of last month’s WGC – Accenture World Match Play Championship mixed some fine approach play with a hot putter to produce seven birdies, a tally that was offset by bogeys at the third and 13th holes.

His exemplary distance control in difficult windy conditions was never more apparent than at the 236 yard par three fourth, where holding the green proved beyond the majority of this world-class field. Only four birdies were made there all day and Stenson’s was secured from less than six feet following a marvellous approach.

It was a performance that drew rich praise from Björn, who said: “His talent was always there but now he is very resilient. There’s only one thing standing in his way from becoming the World Number One, and that’s Tiger Woods.”

Stenson is too humble to speak about himself in that way and preferred instead to discuss the performance of the European Tour players in general.

“Europe has been producing a lot of good players, and same from other parts of the world.  Maybe the conditions we were playing in today were more in our favour - I guess we might be a little bit more used to playing in windy and tough conditions. 

“My game feels good and when I go out at the moment I seem to be able to bring it in around par or better. I feel like my low level is higher than it’s been before,” added Stenson.

Björn showed some gutsy resilience of his own to only drop one shot in his round of 68, in spite of managing to hit just three of 14 fairways, and was happy with his showing after a month’s break.

“I’ve had a couple of tough times but I just want to get back to playing my golf and do what I do best, and that’s to get my nose stuck in some big tournaments here and there.

“What I need is good rounds like this. I haven’t played the greatest the last couple of months and this will get me a little bit more comfortable on the golf course. But I still have a lot of work to do and one 68 doesn’t make everything. I am 36 years old and I can’t go out and hit the amount of balls I’m used to, so I am looking at ways of trying to use my more efficiently,” added Björn, who finished runner-up when this event was played at Mount Juliet Conrad, Ireland in 2004.

First place that year went to Ernie Els and the big South African made solid early progress in his bid to become only the second double-winner of the event after Tiger Woods when he carded an opening round of two under par 70.

It put Els in a share of seventh place behind three players tied on 69 - fellow European Tour Member José Maria Olazábal of Spain and the Americans Aaron Baddeley and Charles Howell III.

Woods’ name is never far from anyone’s lips due to his dominance of this event – he has won in five of the seven years – and his record at Doral – he is a total of 65 under par for his 17 tournament rounds on the Blue Monster Course.

Thursday’s 71 was more restrained than many of his previous exploits at the South Florida venue but the American remains well placed in a share of tenth spot alongside, amongst others, Sergio Garcia of Spain.

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