Henrik Stenson (Getty Images)
The Race to Dubai crown might already be wrapped up by Rory McIlroy but there is still plenty at stake this week, with places in the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai and on The 2013 European Tour International both up for grabs.
With two tournaments being played simultaneously this week, the UBS Hong Kong Open and the SA Open Championship, the battle to retain European Tour cards and book berths in next week’s season finale is being fought on two fronts.
After the first day at the Serengeti Golf & Wildlife Estate, Henrik Stenson showed he intends to hang on to one of the all-important top 60 spots in The Race to Dubai.
The Swede, who began this tournament ranked 59th, carded a six under par 66 after he opened up with a birdie-birdie start before he drove to the green on the par four 17th to record a relatively straightforward eagle.
Jaco Van Zyl is five places behind Stenson and recored an opening round 70 to keep alive his slim chances of joining the game’s elite in Dubai.
At the Hong Kong Golf Club, Joel Sjöholm was one of the main movers, carding a three under par round of 67 to get off to a solid start in his bid to climb the five places needed to gatecrash next week’s showpiece at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
The flamboyant Swede is currently in 65th place in The Race to Dubai, some €31,471 behind Ireland’s Peter Lawrie in 60th, and so would need at least a top nine finish in Fanling to stand any chance of securing a debut appearance in the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
He said: “The last few weeks at home have been very tough. I thought my category might’ve got me into at least one of the tournaments, but I got a rude awakening and had to watch them on TV. I don’t normally watch that much golf when I’m home, but I watched quite a lot because I so badly want to get into Dubai next week, so I needed to know what everyone else was doing.
“At lot of my friends were messaging me to let me know I’d dropped a few places down the money list, which wasn’t what I wanted to hear! There are so many great guys out here and I don’t wish badly on anyone, but sometimes you have to be egotistical and selfish and just hope that you climb above other people. If I can finish in the top 60, I’ve got a great chance of earning some big money next week and then playing in more tournaments next season. So I’m going to be trying my best on every shot this week to make sure I’m there.”
Meanwhile, of those around the top 119 who will retain their playing privileges for next season, Craig Lee, currently 116th, did his chances the world of good with a five under par 67 in South Africa.
The Scot endured an up and down day in a round which included three bogeys, yet he finished with a flourish by ending his round birdie-birdie-par.
In Asia, Andrew Dodt was given the most cause for optimism after he signed for a morale-boosting round of 65.
Dodt is finding some form at just the right time, with top 30 finishes in his last three events, and the Australian continued his impressive run with eight birdies to finish the first round in a share of second place.
He said: “It’s hard not to think about it or notice what others around you are doing, but you just can’t think about it at all. You’ve got to play the shot and play the round and whatever happens, we’ll add up the scores at the end of the week and what will be, will be.”
England’s Gary Boyd has been forced to watch on from the sidelines over the past three weeks, but the time off allowed the 26 year old to free his mind and prepare mentally for this week’s challenge.
Boyd is currently six places and €4,850 behind Rhys Davies in 119th place, and so would need to finish 56th at worst this week to stand any chance of overhauling the Welshman and so avoid a trip to next week’s Qualifying School Final Stage.
He said: “It’s a much needed boost. I’ve tried not to think too much about where I am in the Money List, but it’s difficult not to. I spent a good two weeks away, and I feel mentally refreshed. I got down on myself after Portugal and Australia, so I needed to get away from the game and free my mind.
“I took a more positive frame of mind to the course today, and it had instant rewards with a birdie on the first! It was obviously disappointing to finish with a bogey, but overall I would definitely have taken a 68 to start off what is a very important week in my career."