The good folks at TaylorMade and the staff of the East Lake clubhouse can sleep easy tonight. Henrik Stenson didn’t break any clubs or lockers today, and why would he? After playing a nearly flawless first round, Stenson holds the overnight lead at the TOUR Championship.
Just this past Monday, Stenson became so flustered by a poor closing round of 74 at the BMW Championship, he snapped the head off his driver and took some more frustration out in the locker room before leaving Conway Farms. With just a few days to turn around his mindset before one of the most important tournaments of his career, whatever sort of mental rejuvenation he did certainly seems to have worked.
Stenson shot out of the gates in Atlanta, with five birdies in his first seven holes. He didn’t make his first – and only – bogey until the 16th, but made a birdie on the challenging 18th to shoot six-under 64, one shot ahead of Adam Scott.
Humor, understandably, came a bit easier to the Swedish star in his post-round press sessions. “I really knew I had to be in a good frame of mind coming out here if I wanted to play good golf this week. As some of you noticed, I wasn’t that on Monday when I finished up in Chicago,” Stenson said in USA TODAY. “So it was a good turnaround mentally. I stayed very level-headed, kept the head on, on both myself and drivers, and played a great round of golf.”
You can’t win a tournament on Thursday, but this is the kind of round that can set a tone for the week. Stenson has the built-in advantage of a guaranteed FedEx Cup title if he can win here at East Lake. Although Scott is also in that group and close on his heels, there’s a decent cushion between the leaders and Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, and Tiger Woods, whose opening 73 has the world No. 1 in 29th place and with a mountain to climb.
Stenson played some of his best golf late this year, with four top-three finishes in his last six events. Ask any player out there and they’ll tell you that playing from the front can take a ton of pressure off your shoulders. It’ll be interesting to see if Stenson can keep the pedal to the metal through the weekend.