Playing with Tiger Woods didn’t faze him. The prospect of winning more than $10 million seemed to trouble him not one whit. On Thursday at the Tour Championship, Henrik Stenson was a man at peace, content to blow the doors off East Lake rather than rip any of them off their hinges inside the Tudor clubhouse.
The sometimes tempestuous chap was the model of cool efficiency, his 6-under 64 just good enough for the first-round lead.
Right behind him, with a 65, was a fellow occupant of the FedEx Cup penthouse, Adam Scott. They are two of the top five in FedEx Cup points who can outright win the $10 million playoff bonus with a victory here. For fans of the old-fashioned shootout, they will be conveniently paired in the final twosome Friday.
Two others of the Favored Five — Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar — shot 69 and were five back of Stenson’s lead.
And then, there was Tiger Woods. Oh, dear. You had as many birdies Thursday at East Lake as he did.
For the first time since the 2010 U.S. Open, Woods recorded not a single bird in a round. He was the only player in the field not to post at least one. The top-seeded player begins Friday in 29th place in a 30-man tournament after his 3-over 73. He teed off next-to-last Thursday. He’ll tee off first Friday.
Woods needed 34 putts Thursday, never a good thing. That was tied for most in the field, with Phil Mickelson. Accordingly, Mickelson (71) also was among the only six players who finished north of par.
Woods had no comment afterward. At least his playing partner was around to fill in some of the gaps.
“Obviously frustrating on the greens. I wouldn’t say he was playing bad, but it was one of those days. Missed a couple times in the wrong spot and made three bogeys,” Stenson said. “I mean, if you’re not making any birdies, then it’s going to be a bad day, simple as that.”
For as well as Stenson has played of late — he won the second playoff event three weeks ago and contended at both the British Open and PGA Championship — he has gotten more notice for his temperament.
One can go back to a most curious YouTube video from the 2011 Dubai tournament showing Stenson chunking a chip and then flipping the club over his head into the greenside water hazard. The video raised two puzzlements:
There are hot-tempered Swedes?
And, there’s water in Dubai?
Much more recently, in fact Monday, Stenson was so troubled by his final round at the BMW Championships that after a wayward drive on 18 he dispatched the misbehaving club with one mighty smash to the turf. Later, out of public view, he tore the door off his clubhouse locker.
With that attitude and his well-muscled frame, Stenson is a waste of a perfectly good blocking tight end.
“It was a good turnaround mentally,” Stenson said of his round Thursday. “I stayed very levelheaded, kept my head on, both on myself and my driver.”
“I’ve always been a bit of a hot head, and it kind of builds up,” Stenson said.
“That’s not the best place to be and not the best frame of mind to play golf. I’m really delighted with the change I made (Thursday).”
On Wednesday, his wrist — which had troubled him for the better part of a week — was so sore that he skipped his practice round. A Tour Championship first-timer, he had practically no first-hand knowledge of East Lake. Yet for all that, he went forth Thursday, the wrist pain free, and birdied five of the first seven holes he saw. He was hitting everything stiff, two of the birdie putts measuring a foot or less, none of them over nine feet.
Scraping around at 1 over through the front nine, Scott pulled a reverse Stenson. He turned it on late, stringing six birdies on the back side. His back-nine 29 was one off the Tour Championship nine-hole record and one of seven nine-hole scores of 29 or less in the tournament since 1987.
With somewhat of a habit of blowing up on the weekends at the Tour Championship, Scott was conceding nothing in the chase for the $10 million.
“Hopefully I can use that experience (of disappointing weekends) and figure it out as I go,” Scott said. “If the weather’s like this (benign) the next couple of days, I’ll try to keep my foot on the gas.
“I got a lot of confidence out of playing nine holes like that. If I can do it for nine, I’ll try to do it for 18 (Friday). And wake up Saturday and do it all again.”
At the top of the leaderboard, there is always good will and confidence in abundant supply.
So, it seems fairly certain in the short term that Stenson won’t go all Hulk and start hurling Bobby Jones memorabilia around the clubhouse lobby.
Nor, on the other hand, will he play the role of sage counselor, advising his first-round playing partner, Woods, on how to deal with the many frustrations of golf.
“I don’t think I’m the right person for that,” Stenson said.
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