Henrik Stenson changed his attitude and chose a different target at the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
Instead of smashing a driver and a locker, he demolished the front nine at East Lake on Thursday with five birdies over a six-hole stretch that carried him to a 6-under 64 and a one-shot lead over Masters champion Adam Scott.
It was a big turnaround from Monday at Conway Farms, not only on his scorecard but between the ears.
“I just needed to realize the world is a good place again,” Stenson said.
Stenson was playing his seventh tournament in 10 weeks when the BMW Championship was extended a day by rain. He slammed his driver so hard into the ground on the final hole that the head snapped off, and then he took out his frustrations on his wooden locker at Conway Farms.
Playing all 18 holes at East Lake for the first time, it looked like he couldn’t miss. On the opening seven holes, he had only one iron shot outside 10 feet, and he converted five of them for birdie.
“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 driver’s, and played a great round of golf.”
Tiger Woods didn’t make a thing.
Woods missed a short birdie putt on his opening hole that set the tone for the day. He was the only player in the 30-man field to go without a birdie. On the par 5s, Woods three-putted for par on No. 9 and missed a putt just inside 10 feet on No. 15.
It was only the seventh time in his PGA Tour career — and third time at East Lake — that he went an entire round without a birdie. Woods shot a 73, matching his highest opening round of the year.
Scott did his damage on the back nine, making six birdies in seven holes for a 29 that had him tied for the lead until Stenson finished off his remarkable round with a 5-iron from 223 yards to four feet for birdie on the par-3 closing hole.
Stenson, the No. 2 seed and the hottest player in golf over the past 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.”
●EUROPEAN TOUR: Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium took a share of the lead in the first round of the Italian Open.
The Ryder Cup standout shot a 65 at the Golf Club Torino in Turin to join Ricardo Gonzalez and Maximilian Kieffer at 7 under.
Colsaerts withdrew from last week’s KLM Open with the flu and appears to have benefited from some time at home.
“Nothing beats being back home with your mum looking after you,” Colsaerts said.
Gonzalez missed three cuts in a row since finishing as the runner-up at the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, but he was on form with six birdies, one bogey and an eagle. Kieffer had a 25-foot putt for the outright lead at the last hole but had to settle for a par.