SUN CITY, South Africa (AP) -- Taking advantage of Rory McIlroy's absence, Henrik Stenson forged a late charge Thursday to put himself a shot off the lead after the opening round of the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
Stenson can clinch the Race to Dubai title with a victory in South Africa, and three birdies in his last four holes on Day 1 put him in contention for that, and a second Nedbank title.
Stenson opened with a 3-under 69, just one behind a three-way tie for the lead made up of Felipe Aguilar, Jeunghun Wang and Ross Fisher.
It's the first year the Nedbank Challenge forms part of the European Tour's three-tournament final series. The Nedbank follows last weekend's Turkish Airlines Open, and the season-ending World Tour Championship in Dubai is to come next weekend.
McIlroy, the Race to Dubai winner the past two seasons, skipped the Turkish Airlines Open and the Nedbank. McIlroy is third in the standings behind Stenson and Danny Willett.
In South Africa, Stenson started with five straight pars and bogeyed No. 6. He picked up shots at Nos. 8 and 9, but really found his groove at Gary Player Country Club late in his opening round.
While the British Open champion climbed up the leaderboard, Willett was in trouble after opening with a 3-over 75. The Masters champion had a triple-bogey eight on the second hole, made four other bogeys, and faces a long haul to get back in contention.
At the top, Aguilar set the clubhouse lead with his 68, dropping just one shot and collecting five birdies. Wang and Fisher matched that later in the afternoon, while Stenson was one of seven players a shot behind the leaders.
One of them is Alex Noren, who is the European Tour's in-form golfer and is seeking a fourth title this season.