From Brian Keogh in Miami
Big gun Henrik Stenson roared into a share of the first round lead as the internationals dominated the wind blown WGC - CA Championship at Doral's Blue Monster in Miami.
But there was a sting in the tail for Ireland's Padraig Harrington, who was one under par playing the treacherous 18th, but dumped his tee shot in the water two putted for a double bogey six and a round of one over par 73 that left still left him comfortably inside the top 30.
Instead, the day belonged to strapping Swede Stenson, who racked up seven birdies and just two bogeys in a five under par 67 to share the early lead with Aussie Robert Allenby and move one stroke clear of Dane Thomas Bjorn.
Bidding for his second WGC victory of the season, Accenture Match Play winner Stenson birdied two of his last three holes and top a leaderboard dominated by international players.
Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal, Aussie Aaron Baddeley and American Charles Howell carded three under par 69s to share fourth place with South African Ernie Els a shot further back after putting poorly on his way to a 70.
Tiger Woods was lurking just four shots back after taking 32 putts in a 71 but the man of the moment was Stenson, who is still an unknown factor in the US outgunning Woods Dubai and then taking last months' WGC Accenture Match Play title with victory over US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy in Arizona.
And after compiling a brilliant round in testing conditions, he is hoping that he can hang in there until Sunday and extend his massive lead at the top of the European Order of Merit.
“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 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.
But like playing partners Mickelson and Hideto Tanihara, the Dubliner had to battle hard to tame wet and windy conditions.
As Mickelson limped to the turn in five over par with Tanihara faring one shot worse, Harrington as though he was burning it up by comparison
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 before picking up a shot at the 14th.
But he finished poorly with that double at the 18th and will have to claw his way back up the leaderboard over the next three days.