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Golf-Sizzling Stenson sets early pace at East Lake

Reuters

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

ATLANTA, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Red-hot Henrik Stenson piled up five birdies in six holes with a superb exhibition of pinpoint approach play to take an early one-shot lead midway through Thursday's opening round of the elite Tour Championship.

In glorious sunshine with barely a breath of wind at East Lake Golf Club in the PGA Tour's season finale, Stenson birdied the second, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh as he raced to the turn in five-under-par 30.

American Billy Horschel was alone in second, after 16 holes, with Canada's Graeme DeLaet and Americans Roberto Castro and Webb Simpson a further stroke back at three under in the last of the four lucrative FedExCup playoff events.

DeLaet had completed 11 holes, Castro 17 and 2012 U.S. Open champion Simpson 16 at East Lake, where FedExCup playoff honours and the eye-popping $10 million bonus that comes with that offer huge incentive to the 30-man field.

FedExCup points leader and tournament favourite Tiger Woods, seeking a sixth PGA Tour victory, was at one over after nine holes, having bogeyed the tricky par-four fifth after hitting his approach into a greenside bunker.

However, Woods' playing partner Stenson commanded the spotlight after his electrifying start, despite having come into this event with concern over tendinitis in his left wrist which developed during last week's BMW Championship in Chicago.

The Swede launched his birdie blitz after hitting his tee shot to six feet at the par-three second and knocking in the putt before picking up another stroke at the fourth, where his approach finished just eight inches from the cup.

Stenson, who won the Deutsche Bank Championship earlier this month, struck his second shot to four feet at the fifth, his tee shot to within two feet at the sixth and sank his longest birdie putt of the round at the seventh, a nine-footer.

The Swede was ranked second in the FedExCup standings at the start of the week and, along with the other members of the top five - Woods, Adam Scott, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar - would automatically secure the playoff trophy with victory on Sunday.

Long-hitting American Dustin Johnson held the clubhouse lead after mixing six birdies with a four bogeys for a two-under 68.

"I thought the conditions were great," Johnson told reporters. "The course is in perfect condition, not a lot of wind. It was swirling a little bit, but it kind of plays the same as it always does.

"You drive it on the fairway, you can attack the golf course, but you hit it in the rough, it's really tough to get on the green." (Editing by Frank Pingue)

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