ICEMAN STENSON STAYS COOL TO LEAD AT ABU DHABI HSBC CHAMPIONSHIP

Swede shoots bogey free, 8-under par opening round of 64, while Kaymer chases on 6-under

VIDEO: Stenson and Kaymer discuss strong start - https://we.tl/38V2RfI5hI

19 January 2017, Abu Dhabi, UAE: World No.4 Henrik Stenson shot a clinical, bogey-free round of 64 to lead the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on day one at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

The Swede put on a faultless performance in his first competitive round of 2017, taking advantage of the favourable morning conditions in the Capital.

Germany’s Martin Kaymer, a three-time winner in Abu Dhabi, heads the chasing pack on 6-under, joined by Brits Oliver Fisher and Marc Warren, and Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

Reigning Open Champion Stenson, just a Falcon Trophy away from completing the ‘Desert Swing’ sweep of all Middle Eastern titles, was understandably happy to kick-start his season after the winter break.

“Must be the lack of practice that does it,” joked the 40-year-old after his round. “(I’m) delighted with that score. I think I scored a bit better than what I played, but I kept it under control somewhat and hit a couple of close iron shots and made the putts.”

Like his Ryder Cup team-mate, Kaymer was similarly pleased to hit the ground running in the event he last won in 2011.

“Yeah, very nice start,” said Kaymer. “You never know what you're going to get the first tournament after such a long break, especially if you only practiced a little bit. Your expectations are high, but you don't know how much you get out of your practice in your very first tournament.”

After his round, Kaymer visited H.E. Aref Al Awani, General Secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council (ADSC) at the ADSC Pavilion to discuss the season’s prospects, the growth of the game in the UAE and the stunning success the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship has achieved in its 12 years so far.

Meanwhile, World No. 3 Dustin Johnson, grouped with Stenson and Danny Willett for the first two days, got off to an understated start on his maiden Middle East appearance, matching compatriot and defending Champion Rickie Fowler’s level-par 72 on The National Course.

Two of the tour’s top young talents, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton, both enjoyed positive starts to their season with respective rounds of 69 and 67. 22-year-old Fitzpatrick came inches from a hole-in-one on the par-3 7th, but his precise tee shot skirted around the hole to deny the Brit and watching galleries the first ace of the Championship. Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello also put himself into the mix early on, closing out his day with two birdies in his last three holes for a 5-under 67.

17-year-old UAE-based player Rayhan Thomas, one of two amateurs in the field, posted a solid level-par round in the biggest start of his career to date, to put the young Indian in with a promising chance of making the weekend’s action.

Away from the course, the action in the Championship Village also got off to a thrilling start as visitors from the UAE and further afield tried their hand at golf, tennis, rugby and triathlon. There was even a chance to test their skills against the pros with tennis star Tim Henman and rugby legends Zinzan Brooke and Christian Cullen making surprise appearances.

Organisers are expecting another record Friday attendance tomorrow with the tournament’s famous Ladies Day promising free entry and the chance for fashionistas to win an all-inclusive trip to New York Fashion Week. ‘Wear Red Day’ returns on Saturday, inviting fans, families and friends to rock Championship red for free entry.

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is presented by Abu Dhabi Sports Council and runs until Sunday 22 January 2017 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Tickets and tailored packages are available from www.ticketmaster.ae/artist/abu-dhabi-hsbc-championship-tickets/929325 at AED 50 for a daily pass. Guests staying at any Abu Dhabi hotel over the Championship period enter free. For more information, visit www.abudhabigolfchampionship.com.