Dubai: Race to Dubai leader Henrik Stenson missed an opportunity to go level at the top of the DP World Tour Championship leaderboard on day one after a bogey on the 18th on Thursday.
Stenson followed up three birdies on his front nine with two on the back nine and had set himself up perfectly for a birdie at the last before missing two tap-ins.
He finished his round at four-under-par 68 and now sits tied for fourth with Race to Dubai contender Jamie Donaldson, a stroke ahead of Thongchai Jaidee.
Stenson said: “I was tired at the last and focus slipped a bit on the first putt, then I over-hit it from four feet. It’s frustrating to drop one [shot] there, but it was still a good first round. I’m playing good, so I’ve no need to be worried about the game out there. There are still three days to go.”
If Donaldson were to win the DP World Tour Championship, Stenson would have to finish second to hang on to the Race to Dubai.
If Donaldson were to finish second in the event, Stenson would need to come 24th to win the series. Likewise, if Jaidee wins, Stenson would need to finish 19th.
Other Race to Dubai contenders Ian Poulter and Justin Rose finished the day at three and two-under par respectively and are tied for seventh and tenth. Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell finished level par after four birdies and four bogeys and sits tied for 27th.
Among the others, former world No 1 Rory McIlroy hit a first-round 71 but his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki’s presence drew more attention than his golf in Dubai. The latest set of rumours surrounding the supposed break-up of McIlroy and Wozniacki’s relationship surfaced last month. Both refused to comment on those stories, but a small sign of the inaccuracy of those reports came when McIlroy tweeted in praise of Wozniacki’s first tournament victory of the year, at the Luxembourg Open.
Some suggested on Thursday that Wozniacki’s visit to the Race to Dubai finale — she was also here last year — confirmed the Dane and her boyfriend are back on. The reality may well be that they were never off.
“It was nice,” said McIlroy of Wozniacki’s arrival. “She started her pre-season a couple of days ago and was on court this morning at seven o’clock. So she got some practice in before coming to see me. It’s good to have her here.”
McIlroy spoke after finishing what he regarded as a disappointing opening round of 71, one under par. The 24-year-old sat three under after just seven holes but subsequent dropped shots, including at the 18th, and missed opportunities on 10, 14, 15 and 16 halted an early charge.
“I felt like I played better than the score suggests,” McIlroy said. “I guess it is one of those cases of how to turn a 67 into a 71.
“I know there is a good score out there. It is just a case of taking your chances.
“I need to do a little bit of work on the putting green this afternoon.”