Stenson leaps into five-stroke lead at Sun City

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.
But he made up for that lapse with a chip-in for eagle at the par-five 14th from a lie which he said was similar. That was in the middle of a run of five successive threes on the back nine.

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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