The Swede has long been a candidate for the unwanted “best player without a major” tag, but he gave himself an excellent chance of a breakthrough with an excellent finish to his first round at Chambers Bay.
Stenson got up and running with birdies at the second and third, and he hit back from a bogey at six with another birdie at the seventh before making a mess of the long eighth – going from rough to rough and running up a scrappy six.
But the Ryder Cup star steadied himself with five straight pars and then caught fire with his putter, knocking in birdie chances at four of the final five holes to join Dustin Johnson on five under par.
“Mentally I was in a good place,” he said. “Ball-striking wise, I hit some real quality shots out there. I played as solid as I have all year. I set up a lot of birdie chances coming in and just rolled a couple of beauties in from 14 and on.”
“This is one day out of four and we’ve got to keep at it if we want to be there on Sunday.??Regardless of whether you like all the holes, you like some of the stuff on this course, I’m here to do a good tournament and a good championship.??So just keep your head down and keep on going, that’s what’s going to get me in a good spot.”
Stenson also revealed that his caddie Gareth Lord did well to get round after suffering a suspected broken wrist in a fall during a practice round on Wednesday.
“My guy is in a cast, so it’s dangerous out there,” Stenson added. “He potentially broke his wrist yesterday there on a fall on 16. Walking off the 16th he took the fall, both feet in the air, and got trapped with his wrist under the bag. It might be broken or just torn ligaments.
“He’s not in a good place with the hand, but he managed to caddie and did a??good job for me anyway. I had to caddie for him a little bit, as well. It’s??definitely dangerous with those slopes and the grass gets shiny and lays down.??It gets a bit like ice skating out there.”
Johnson, meanwhile, was in sparkling form and looked on course to match the major championship record score of 63 when he rolled in his sixth birdie putt of the day at the seventh hole – his 17th.
A birdie-birdie finish would have given him a 62, but he did well to save par from 12 feet at the eighth and he then pulled his tee shot at the short ninth and was unable to escape his first bogey of the round.
“I hit the ball really well, had a lot of good looks at birdie all day,” said Johnson, who hit 14 greens in regulation and took most of the trouble on the fairways out of the equation with some monster hitting from the tee.
“I just made a bad swing on nine, it was the only poor swing I made all day. But overall I’m happy with it.”
Johnson arrived at Chambers Bay earlier than scheduled after he was forced to pull out of last week’s FedEx St Jude Classic midway through the first round due to illness, and it gave him a chance to fine-tune his game with coach Butch Harmon.
“Leading up to this week I was actually a little bit frustrated. I’ve been playing pretty well. I had some good finishes,” he said. “I just wasn’t striking it like I wanted to. But the last few days, I have done a lot of good work with Butch and felt really comfortable when I came out on Saturday.
“I was really swinging well. I’ve really got a good feel for the golf course because I’m swinging a lot better than I have been in the past few weeks. And it carried right over into today.”