Henrik Stenson birdied 18 for a one-shot lead.
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Thursday, November 06, 2008

SHANGHAI, China (AP) — Henrik Stenson stood on the 16th tee and could barely see the green just 288 yards away, a contour soaked by heavy rain and shrouded in fog and smog.

"It was pretty hard to see at times, yeah," he said. "I thought there would have been a fog delay, or a smog delay."

No such thing at Thursday's first round of the HSBC Champions tournament, which was good news for the Swede.

He birdied No. 16 with a 5-foot putt and then holed a 20-foot birdie on No. 18 for a 7-under 65 and a one-stroke lead over four of the game's best players: Sergio Garcia, Anthony Kim, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott.

"Although it was difficult to see, it was very good scoring conditions," said Mickelson, the defending champion.

Garcia could have carded a 65, too, but the Spaniard missed a 4-foot eagle putt on the 18th. The putt came after a 235-yard 5-wood landed just below the hole and rolled close.

"Unfortunately, my putting stroke didn't feel as good as it's been feeling lately," Garcia said. "Maybe it's the jet-lag or something."

The HSBC has been dubbed Asia's major. There are suggestions it should become a World Golf Championships event, but for now it's simply a $5 million tournament at the Sheshan Golf Club with 10 of the world's top 20 playing.

Garcia, ranked No. 3 behind Tiger Woods and Mickelson, has a chance to go to No. 2 if he finishes in the top three. He won twice this year and he's been second - or tied for second - three times.

If Garcia wins, the No. 2 spot is his. If he finishes second, Mickelson needs to finish at least fourth to keep his No. 2 spot. If Garcia finishes third, the American will hold on by finishing at least 15th.

"The important thing is that I'm moving in the right direction," Garcia said. "It will be nice to finish the year as No. 2, but if I don't, I'm just going to come out next year going strong and try to keep playing well."

Mickelson has not won in the absence of injured Tiger Woods. He lost his No. 2 ranking to Garcia this week.

"That's the last thing that I really think about, other than trying to improve my game and be the best that I can be and hopefully the best in the world," Mickelson said. "But I don't worry about the points system or the actual rankings themselves."

For Kim, this is only his fourth round of golf in 3 1/2 weeks. In the last few weeks he sprained his right ankle - walking down steps at a friend's house - and bruised his jaw while horseback riding. Kim's mouth slammed shut as his mount hit the ground, and now he can't open his mouth very wide.

"My diet is pretty much limited to noodles," he said.

The son of South Korean parents, Kim's always happy to be in Asia. He said he spoke Korean with 17-year-old playing partner Noh Seung-yul, who shot 70.

"Whenever I get back to Asia, whether it's Korea, Japan or China, I feel very, very honored to be here because my parents always wanted me to come back to my roots."

The HSBC Champions is the first event of the European tour season and will culminate a year from now in the Dubai World Championship. The tour has also rebranded the Order of Merit - the season money title - and now calls it the Race to Dubai. That Dubai tournament will have a $10 million purse with $10 million more available in bonus money.

Several American-based players - including Kim and Camilo Villegas of Colombia - have recently joined the European tour, hoping to capitalize on the season-ending money prize.

You May Like