SUN CITY (South Africa) • Sweden's Henrik Stenson bolstered his bid for a second Race to Dubai title on Thursday, after finishing the opening round of the Nedbank Golf Challenge one stroke behind the leading trio.
The British Open champion made three straight birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes on a tough day of scoring at the Gary Player Country Club to register a three-under 69.
He trails Chile's Felipe Aguilar, South Korea's Wang Jeung Hun and Englishman Ross Fisher at the top of the leader board in South Africa, but is set to gain considerable ground on Danny Willett in the Race to Dubai rankings.
He could lift the Harry Vardon Trophy - awarded to the European Tour Order of Merit winner - for a second time in four years with victory in Sun City, provided Willett ends up outside the top two.
The Masters champion, second to Stenson in the standings ahead of next week's season-ending Tour Championship in Dubai, struggled to a 75.
"It would be nice to wrap up the Race to Dubai, but I just want to play as well as I can for these two weeks and see where it takes me," said Stenson. "Of course, you're always going to look a little bit and see what the other guys are doing. But at the end of the day, I've got to focus on my game and I managed to do that, so I'm happy with today's work."
He is one of seven players a shot behind the front trio, a group that includes countryman Alex Noren, who is the European Tour's in-form golfer and is seeking a fourth title this season, England's Chris Wood and the home duo of Jaco van Zyl and George Coetzee.
The tough conditions made for some high scoring, with only 20 of the field of 72 finishing below par in their opening round.
"The wind out there makes Augusta look like a playground," Coetzee remarked.
Rory McIlroy, the Race to Dubai winner the past two seasons, skipped last week's Turkish Airlines Open and the current event. The Northern Irishman is third in the standings behind Stenson and Willett.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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