Published January 19, 2017
Henrik Stenson chipped in from 30 yards and had seven more birdies Thursday to open the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with an 8-under 64 in his first competitive round of 2017.
Showing no rustiness from an offseason of little practice, the fourth-ranked Stenson led by two strokes midway through the first round. Three-time winner Martin Kaymer, Oliver Fisher, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Marc Warren were next.
Stenson will do well to top 2016 — he won the British Open for his first major title and finished the season as Europe's No. 1 — and he prepared for the new year by mostly ditching his clubs, preferring to spend more time on the ski slopes with his family in Utah.
Even his build-up to the Abu Dhabi event wasn't ideal, with two overnight flights in three days from his home in Orlando interrupted by his attendance at an awards ceremony in Stockholm where he beat Zlatan Ibrahimovic, among others, to win Male Sports Athlete of the Year at the Swedish Sports Awards.
All Stenson needed was a few buckets of balls and some good putting sessions to get him back on track. Playing in an early-morning three-ball with two more current major champions in Dustin Johnson and Danny Willett, Stenson birdied four of his first five holes after starting at No. 10, completing the hot streak with the chip-in after leaving his approach five yards short of the green.
He curled in a birdie putt from 15 feet on No. 17 and tapped in at the par-5 18th to pick up another shot before making birdie on two of his last three holes to end a round in which he was never in trouble.
"Very limited preparation," said the 40-year-old Stenson, before adding with a smile: "So that might be the way forward."
"I was quite amazed how good the game felt coming into today. But again, I feel like I scored better than I played."
It was Stenson's second best round at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, only bettered by his course-record 62 in 2006 when he was runner-up to Chris DiMarco. It is a long course that suits Stenson's eye, and the same could be said of Kaymer.
The two-time major winner from Germany mixed eight birdies — three coming on his final three holes — with two bogeys for his 66, his latest low score at an event where he usually excels. He won in 2008, '10 and '11, and should have won in 2015, only to throw away a 10-shot lead with 13 holes to play on the final day.
"The golf course, for me, doesn't feel like I need to do a lot of special things in order to play well because I usually putt well on those greens," Kaymer said. "Doesn't feel like a hard-working day."
Johnson, at No. 3 the highest-ranked player in a strong field after Rory McIlroy's withdrawal on Monday, shot 72 in his first appearance in Abu Dhabi. Defending champion Rickie Fowler also was at even par.