Henrik Stenson stormed into a two-shot lead as the 2017 HSBC Golf Championship got underway on Thursday, with the Swede overcoming any post-holiday rustiness.
Stenson carded an impressive eight-under 64 on the opening day of his first tournament outing of 2017, telling Sky Sports (h/t Press Association, via ESPN.co.uk) the lack of practice may have served him well after all:
It must be that lack of practice that does it. Lack of sleep, lack of practice, but I'm obviously delighted with that score. I think I scored a bit better than I played, but I kept it under control somewhat, hit a couple of close iron shots and made the putts. Wasn't too much stress out there after all.
I was working on my putting, some short game, hit a couple of buckets last week and then flew to Sweden [on Monday].
I was there for the sports awards, came down here on Tuesday morning, so very limited preparations. That might be the way forward.
Martin Kaymer, Oliver Fisher, Marc Warren and Kiradech Aphibarnrat trail the world No. 4 by two shots apiece and are tied for second place heading into Day 2.
Read on for a roundup of Day 1 from the 2017 HSBC Golf Championship, as Stenson ended Thursday's action at the perch, complete with a look at the leaderboard's top 10.
|2017 HSBC Championship: Day 1 Leaderboard|
|Position||Player||Day 1||To Par|
Visit the official European Tour website for a look at the leaderboard in full.
Preparation proved to be of little importance to Stenson on Thursday as he made a seamless return to the European Tour with a table-topping 64 at the Abu Dhabi Golf Course.
Starting on the back nine, the Gothenburg native opened his tournament with six birdies over his first nine holes, completing a bogey-free day's work, per the European Tour:
The European Tour @EuropeanTour
No signs of rust for the World Number 4 ✍🏽 #ADChamps https://t.co/Y4vZccGUYV2017-1-19 08:18:07
Just three pars across his first nine holes on Day 1 showed Stenson wasn't looking to play it safe in Abu Dhabi as he continued his search for a maiden career victory in this competition.
Kaymer's hopes of challenging for the title remain strong, however, as he rests just a couple of shots off the pace set by Stenson and is once again enjoying himself at the HSBC Championship, a competition that appeals to his strengths:
The European Tour @EuropeanTour
66 to start for 3-time winner Martin Kaymer. He's now 118 under par for his 37 career rounds here. https://t.co/OBBlSxYPsM2017-1-19 07:59:37
The German began strongly with back-to-back birdies on the 10th and 11th, bookending his Day 1 escapades with three successive birdies between the seventh and ninth—having started his day on the course's back nine.
Warren is one of the three other players currently joint-second after he impressed across both halves of the course, although BBC Sport Scotland's Kenny Crawford highlighted he wasn't the only Scot who impressed:
Kenny Crawford @KCrawfordBBC
Great start by the Scots in Abu Dhabi - especially @MarcWarrenGolf ⛳️ https://t.co/IETvvl9niW2017-1-19 12:06:36
The Europeans advertised a stellar standard of play by and large, with Thailand's Aphibarnrat the only non-European who managed to make the top eight after Thursday's opener.
Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Tommy Fleetwood and France's Julien Quesne were among those who dazzled, and their scores of five-under were enough to seem them go level in sixth place along with England's Tyrrell Hatton. Taking to social media after Day 1, the 25-year-old was upbeat following Thursday's performance:
Tyrrell Hatton @TyrrellHatton
Happy with my score today, felt pretty rusty but managed to score well!! Was good fun playing with @BrandenGrace @MattFitz94 #ADgolfchamps2017-1-19 11:57:15
Stenson will look to remain loose and limber if he's to maintain the pace set on Thursday, and a win in Abu Dhabi after more than a month away from golf would provide him with a dream start to 2017.
That being said, the field remains wide open after the first day of the competition, and a host of battle-hardened pros are stuck close to the Swede's heels heading into Friday's second round.