ATLANTA (AP) — Tiger Woods and Henrik Stenson, the top two seeds in the FedEx Cup, could not have been more different in the opening round of the Tour Championship.
Stenson hardly missed a shot on the front nine. He had such control over his game that six of his first seven iron shots were 10 feet or closer to the hole. He converted five of them for birdies, added a 5-iron from 223 yards to 4 feet for one last birdie on the par-3 18th, and wound up with a 6-under 64 and a one-shot lead at East Lake.
Tiger Woods was the model of frustration.
He missed a short birdie putt on the opening hole that set the tone for a most unusual day. When it was over, Woods failed to make a birdie for only the seventh time in his PGA Tour career — three of them at East Lake. Woods opened with a 73, nine shots behind.
“It’s a nice feeling to hit those kind of shots playing with the world’s best player,” Stenson said. “Normally, it’s him who does it to everyone else, but it was kind of nice to throw a couple at him. We know he didn’t have the best of days, and he’s going to fight hard to try to come back into the tournament. It’s still a long way to go, but it’s always nice to perform the way I did when you’re playing with the world’s best player.”
Woods walked off the course without speaking to reporters.
Perhaps he could learn from Stenson how to cope with a frustrating day on the golf course.
Or maybe not.
“I don’t think I’m the right person,” Stenson said.
What made Stenson’s round so remarkable was that just three days ago, his emotions were boiling. Angry at the way he was playing — and the fact he had to be at Conway Farms north of Chicago for a Monday finish brought on by rain — that he smashed his driver into the ground so hard that the head snapped out. Then, he took out his frustrations by damaging his locker.
And that was just one tournament after winning the Deutsche Bank Championship.
“I really knew I had to be in a good frame of mind coming out there if I wanted to play good golf this week,” he said. “As some of you noticed, I wasn’t that on Monday when I finished up in Chicago. So it was a good turnaround mentally. I stayed very level-headed — kept the head on, both myself and drivers, and played a great round of golf.”
More than feeling better about his attitude, Stenson was helped by feeling no pain in his left wrist.
He suspects he slept it on wrong last weekend, and it reached a point where it hurt to hold a toothbrush. He played only nine holes of practice — the front nine — on Tuesday and iced his wrist and took anti-inflammatories. It seemed to have worked.
The biggest change was his attitude.
Stenson is known for public displays of frustrations — remember that poor tee marker at Carnoustie in 2007? — but this was peculiar because he had just won the Deutsche Bank Championship in his previous tournament. That capped off an amazing summer that began with four straight tournaments in the top 3, including two majors and a World Golf Championship. He said he apologized to the club and told the locker room attendants to keep in contact, presumably so he can pay for the repairs.
Why so much anger so soon?
“I can tell you don’t have much experience with Swedes, do you?” Stenson said, handling it with his dry humor. “No, I’ll tell you I’ve always been a bit of a hot-head, and I just haven’t been able to get any rest. I was looking forward to that Monday back home and lying on the couch — the kids in school and me just doing nothing, and I ended up playing golf again on that Monday. I was just tired, and I pushed myself over the edge there.
“That’s not the best place to be and not the best frame of mind to play good golf,” he said. “I’m really delighted with the change I made to today.”
Stenson had a one-shot lead over Masters champion Adam Scott, who deals with his frustrations internally. He was irritated by missing the green three times with a wedge, thus wasting good birdie chances, and missing a 6-foot birdie putt on the par-5 ninth to stay 1-over at the turn.
Two shots into the 10th changed everything. Scott made six birdies in seven holes for a 29 on the back nine and a 65.
Stenson, the No. 2 seed and the hottest player in golf over the last three months, and Scott (No. 3) only have to win the Tour Championship to capture the FedEx Cup and the $10 million prize. Even more is at stake for Scott, who would be a strong candidate for PGA Tour player of the year if he were to win this week. That would give him three wins, compared with five wins for Woods, though Scott would have a major and the FedEx Cup.
“There haven’t been too many guys who have been in the position the last 12 years to even warrant thinking about it,” Scott said. “So it’s an opportunity that might not come along too often. I’m going to be working hard to try and make my case for it.”