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05 Dec 2008 09:17
Henrik Stenson of Sweden carried his World Cup-winning form into the first round of the Nedbank Challenge when he equalled the course record and took a five-stroke lead on Thursday with a nine-under par 63 at the Gary Player Country Club.
Only three players in the elite 12-man field broke par. South Africa’s Rory Sabbatini shot a four-under 68 while Lee Westwood of England made 70.
Defending champion Trevor Immelman was among six players on level-par 72.
Stenson and Robert Karlsson, who was among the group on 72, arrived in Sun City after clinching the World Cup with a final round of 63 in the foursomes at Mission Hills in China on Sunday.
“It was great,” said Stenson.
“I was a little bit tired coming in but obviously not tired enough.”
Stenson started with a near-perfect nine-iron approach for a tap-in birdie at the first and birdied the next two holes as well, hitting a seven-iron to 10 feet from a fairway bunker at the third.
His only dropped shot was at the par-three third when he was in thick rough just off the green.
Stenson said the key to his round was accuracy off the tee. “I only used the driver once today [Thursday] and that was at the ninth where I missed the fairway. I’ve got a strong three-wood and I feel pretty confident with it. I kept hitting the fairways, hit some great iron shots and my putting was good.”
Although his round made him the favourite to lift the $1,2-million first prize, Stenson said he wasn’t looking too far ahead. “It’s a strong field and it’s tough around the greens.”
Sabbatini, known for his aggressive play, said: “I played pretty conservatively today. I gave myself a lot of birdie opportunities. I drove the ball nicely and only missed three greens. I kept the ball in the fairways.
“I’ve hear about all the spitting cobras in the bushes here and I wanted to keep as far away from them as I can.”
Westwood, who played with Stenson, made a bad start, hitting his first drive so far to the right that he admitted he was lucky to drop only one shot. He birdied the par-five ninth and played the back nine in two under.
“I had four weeks off after having my tonsils out so I was a bit rusty,” he said.
Westwood added that Stenson had played superbly but warned: “This course generally gets harder as the week goes on. The tournament is by no means over.”
Karlsson looked likely to be Stenson’s strongest challenger when he got to four-under after 10 holes. But he had a double-bogey on the 11th and dropped two more shots coming in.—AFP
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