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September 19 2013

7:34 PM

Stenson sizzles in East Lake debut

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Henrik Stenson came to East Lake ranked second in the FedExCup.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM

ATLANTA -- The ice and anti-inflammatories had done the trick, and the pain in Henrik Stenson's ailing left wrist had all but disappeared on Thursday during the first round of the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola.

The frustration that Stenson had taken out on his locker before leaving Conway Farms on Monday after that 74 was gone, too. Ditto for the anger that prompted him to break his driver after hitting it into the water at the 18th hole a few minutes earlier.

"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," Stenson 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, on both myself and drivers, and played a great round of golf."

Indeed, it was. Stenson, who was playing a full 18 holes at East Lake for the first time ever on Thursday, birdied the final one to finish off a 64 that gave him a one-stroke lead over Adam Scott and a two-stroke edge on Billy Horschel and Steve Stricker.

The Swede went out in a sizzling 30 that included a string of four straight birdies that started on the fourth hole. His birdie putts during that stretch came from 8 feet, 8 inches, 4 feet, 23 inches and 10 feet.

"(The) first seven holes is probably as good a proximity to the hole as I've ever had on seven iron shots and made five birdies out of that," Stenson said. "So that was really nice."

Prior to Thursday, Stenson, who won the Deutsche Bank Championship three weeks ago, had only walked the back nine at East Lake after restricting his practice the previous day to preserve his left wrist. Of course, he's had success before on new courses where he hadn't played a practice round.

"I remember one tournament back in '04 on the European Tour and I had a really bad neck, and I just walked the course with a putter and a long wedge, and I went out and won the tournament by four shots," Stenson said. "So obviously, it's not a must."

As pleased as he was with his play tee to green -- Stenson was tied for first in strokes-gained putting, tied for second in greens in regulation and tied for sixth in fairways hit -- the Swede was equally happy with the attitude adjustment he made over the last 72 hours.

"I've always been a bit of a hot head, and it kind of builds up, and eventually it goes over the limit," Stenson explained. "For me, it comes down to being tired. I played so much golf. I played so well, and I just haven't been able to get any rest.
   
"I was looking forward to that Monday back home and lying on the couch. The kids in school and me just doing nothing, and I ended up playing golf again on that Monday. ... I was just tired, and I pushed myself over the edge there.
   
"That's not the best place to be and not the best frame of mind to play good golf. I'm really delighted with the change I made to today."

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