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Stenson storms into share of top spot in Prague

Stenson storms into share of top spot in Prague

Henrik Stenson found his form in spectacular fashion in front of Ryder Cup Captain Padraig Harrington to take a share of the lead after day one of the 2021 D+D Real Czech Masters.

Henrik Stenson

The Swede is one of the finest players of his generation, with an Open Championship and two Race to Dubai titles on his CV but he has not won on the European Tour since that famous triumph at Troon, slipping to 204th on the Official World Golf Ranking.

He said upon arrival at Albatross Golf Resort that he was looking to find some of his best golf over the next four weeks before Harrington makes his picks for the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits and, playing alongside the Irishman, he carded a bogey free 67 to hit the front at five under alongside Australia's Maverick Antcliff.

South African Dean Burmester, American Sean Crocker, Dane Nicolai Højgaard, England's Sam Horsfield, local favourite Ondrej Lieser, Pole Adrian Meronk, 2016 champion Paul Peterson, Finn Tapio Pulkkanen and Major Champion Danny Willett were a shot back.

Stenson has missed 11 cuts in 16 events worldwide in 2021 but made a mockery of that form in the Czech capital as he carded three birdies and a spectacular eagle to hit the top of the leaderboard.

He needed a captain's pick to make a fifth Ryder Cup appearance in Paris - where he won three points from three - and a win this week could greatly increase his chances of another.

"I’m very happy with the score," he said. "There were a couple of swings I’m not overly happy with - my commitment - I’ve been working hard on the swing, I need to keep on working hard.

"I still managed to miss in the right places and kept it tidy around the greens and the putter was working fine today.

"I’m happy with the score and the progress I’m making. Commitment can be a little better and confidence can definitely be a little bit better."

Antcliff romped to the Order of Merit title on the China Golf Tour in 2019 to earn his place on the European Tour and had his best finish earlier this season as he finished second at the Canary Islands Championship.

"I'm just trying to stay patient, it’s all the clichés: patience, taking it one shot at a time, staying present, that’s what I tried to do today, really," he said. "Fairways, greens, hole a couple of putts. Take opportunities when you get them."

Antcliff made the most of the par five first and hit a stunning approach into the fifth but three putted the ninth to turn in 35.

Another smart approach into the 11th was followed by an excellent up and down on the next and when he holed an 11 footer on the 14th he was alongside the morning leaders.

The 28-year-old then almost holed out from 172 yards on the 17th, leaving himself a tap-in from less than six inches to take the lead.

Stenson put his tee shot on the par three second to three feet and then broke a run of six pars by putting a three wood from 306 yards to three feet again on the par five ninth to set up an eagle.

He also picked up a birdie at the par five next to join the lead and while Antcliff edged ahead, a 40 footer on the 17th put Stenson back in a share.

Stenson was playing alongside Lieser and he delighted the local crowds as he fought back from a bogey bogey start.

Excellent approaches into the fourth and sixth got him back level for the day and he started the back nine with a hat-trick of birdies, making a remarkable up and down after going left over a cart path on the 12th. A long putt on the 15th then moved him into what was becoming a large group at four under.

American Peterson was bogey free in his round, a feat matched by Horsfield and Burmester.

Willett produced two almighty blows to hit the green at the 639 yard ninth in two in a birdie birdie finish, while Meronk dropped three shots in his round but recovered with seven birdies.

Højgaard and Pulkkanen both dropped one shot in their rounds of 68, while Crocker made six birdies and two bogeys.

Canadian Aaron Cockerill, German duo Sebastian Heisele and Marcel Schneider, Finn Janne Kaske and South Africans Jacques Kruyswijk and Daniel van Tonder were two shots off the lead.

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