Henrik Stenson birdied his final hole to move into an early four way share of the lead on the opening morning of the BMW Asian Open at Tomson Shanghai Pudong Golf Club.
Stenson, the highest ranked player in the field at World Number 13, carded a four under par 68 to lie alongside Mikko Ilonen, of Finland, India’s Jeev Milkha Singh and last week’s joint runner-up Oliver Wilson, of England, at the top of the leaderboard.
Two years ago the Swede narrowly missed out on the BMW Asian Open title when he lost a play-off but the confidence gleaned from a course where he knows he has played well in the past helped him to make a solid start to going one better.
“It is always nice coming back to a course where you have played well before,” said Stenson, who can regain top spot on The European Tour Order of Merit with a high finish this week. “Obviously you don’t want to bring back the memories of how it felt five minutes after losing the play-off but I enjoy myself here. It is a long way from home but a nice place here in Shanghai and a nice course and I just felt I played well.”
Stenson used his driver only once as the tight course demanded accuracy off the tee rather than power and made a fast start with four birdies in his first seven holes. A three putt on the 17th, his eighth, for bogey slowed his momentum and he dropped another stroke at the par three third. A par saving putt on the fourth put a spring back in his step, however, and he finished strongly with birdies at the fifth and ninth.
Wilson is another player with plenty of confidence after finishing runner-up Beijing last week. And with the sun on his back again, Wilson enjoyed another good day although the gloss was taken off right at the end with a closing bogey.
“I got a lot of confidence from last week,” he said. “I played very well most of the week until Sunday. Even then I played okay but didn’t score. Today I played lovely. Apart from the last, I only had one par save, so gave myself a lot of chances. It was just a shame about the last. I hit a good second shot but came out a bit low and hit the tree. It was a shame to finish like that after such a good round but 68, I’m very happy with that around this course.”
Ilonen matched his playing partner’s score of 68 for a share of the lead thanks to an eagle on the seventh, when he hit a lob wedge over the trees from the left rough into the hole from 80 yards.
“I didn’t hit that many quality shots out there today,” admitted two-time European Tour champion. “But my misses seemed to be in the right spots all the time. I had some long birdie putts and managed to two putt on a lot of greens and made one eagle which made my day.”
Singh was saved by his putting as shrugged off a bit of rust to card an opening 68 in his first appearance since the Masters Tournament at Augusta National.
“Honestly, I love this golf course,” said Singh. “It suits my game although I didn’t hit the ball well today. But my putting was excellent. I took 22 or 24 putts today. Last week was off for me and I didn’t practice much and it showed up today. But I’ve got this afternoon to work on my game. My short game was really good.”