Brian Keogh in Miami
Americans might dominate the world golf rankings but it was the internationals who coped best with testing conditions on Doral’s Blue Monster as Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and Australian Robert Allenby shared the first round lead in the WGC - CA Championship in Miami last night.
Stenson might not be the best known Swedish golfer in the world with Annika Sorenstam dominating the women’s game, and while the 30-year-old jokes that he is not even the most famous sporting Henrik in Sweden thanks to footballer Larsson, he is fast becoming a household name on this side of the pond.
His five under par 67 was carded in squally conditions more akin to Rosses Point that southern Florida and the clinical way he carved out his score marks him out as a player capable of contending for the Masters at Augusta in three weeks’ time.
Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn was equally pleased with a four under par 68 that left him alone in third place, one stroke clear of Australia’s Aaron Baddeley, Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal and American Charles Howell.
Ireland’s Padraig Harrington looked set to finish the day inside the top 10 when he stood on the 18th tee at one under par. But the Dubliner tugged his tee shot into the water and eventually ran up a double bogey six for a one over par round of 73 that left him tied for 28th place.
Harrington lamented his lack of luck on the greens afterwards but otherwise declared himself reasonably happy with his opening effort.
“It was a day when I would have been happy with one under par, so two shots behind that is not the end of the world,” Harrington said. “It was disappointing to finish with a six but it is a tough hole. I didn’t want to finish with a five and I succeeded in doing that!
“I could have been better in many areas but there was nothing I was too displeased at. I created a lot of chances and didn’t do too much wrong. It could have been a day to be two under par but unfortunately it was not to be.”
Stenson used the blade just 26 times to card seven birdies and two bogeys, Tiger Woods was frustrated to take 32 putts in a one under par 71 while Ernie Els was equally miffed to use his putter the same number of times in a round of 70 that began with a tap in eagle putt at the first and ended with a bogey at the treacherous 18th.
Bidding for his second WGC victory of the season, Accenture Match Play winner Stenson birdied two of his last three holes on a day when winds gusted up to 30 mph, making putting treacherous.
“It was a bit of a struggle but I managed to get through it pretty well,” Stenson said. “You’ve just got to try and play smart, hit the fairways and greens and give yourself the easiest putt possible.”
Having cut his teeth on the Challenge Tour, Stenson was not overly taxed by the conditions and put his success down to the patience he has learned through long, hard days on the course in European weather.
“I’ve had a lot of good tournaments when it is conditions like today,” he said. “You know the ball is going to be blowing all over the course for everybody so in a way I think it might be easier mentally to just relax and try and do whatever you can to survive mentally.”
As Tiger Woods opened with a 71 that featured three birdies, two bogeys and 32 putts, it was more of a struggle for Harrington and world No 3 Phil Mickelson, especially early on.
Harrington got off to the perfect start when rolled home a 25-footer at the par five first after going from the left rough off the tee to a greenside bunker.
The Dubliner’s putting from short range was put the test several times on the front nine but he resolved just half those situations with pars as the wind made balance difficult.
At the 236-yard fourth, the reigning European No 1 left his 30 foot birdie putt five feet short coming down the hill but drained his par effort to remain on one under.
His first mistake came at the 442 yard sixth, where he hit a poor approach in the front left bunker and failed to save par from 10 feet.
A controlled wedge from the rough to just nine feet at the downwind seventh got him back into red figures and he holed a similar effort at the next but this time for par.
Opting to lay up short of the greenside water in two, Harrington's pitch flew five yards too far into sand but he salvaged a par with a solid putt from eight feet.
His luck ran out at the tricky par-three ninth where he failed to hold his tee shot into the wind and missed the green right.
A deft pitch finished six feet away but the Irish star never really came close with his par putt and turned in level par.
A birdie at the 14th put him one under par but after missing good chances from the 15 foot range at the 16th and 17th, he dumped his tee shot in the water at the par five 18th to drop two shots that could prove vital come Sunday.