No clubs or sleep, Henrik Stenson fires 68 in DPWT return amid 'rocky' half-year

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Henrik Stenson's start to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship was much like his past year — a whirlwind.

Making his first DP World Tour start since defecting for LIV Golf last summer, as LIV players who are DP World Tour members can play on the circuit due to a temporary stay granted by a U.K. court last July, Stenson fired an opening 4-under 68 and sits T-12 despite a rough start to his week.

"I probably had the worst night of sleep last night," Stenson said after Thursday's round. "I only felt like I was sleeping two, three hours, and then you are kind of there twisting and turning — nine-hour time difference, it takes a few days to get into it."

Making his Thursday scorecard even more impressive, the 46-year-old Swede didn't have his clubs a few days ago and was barred from the Wednesday pro-am along with the other LIV renegades in the field.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

"Coming in borderline late losing the clubs; not getting the clubs on a direct flight is always frustrating," he said. "Got it on Tuesday night and got some practice done yesterday. Didn't hit any shots on the golf course before the opening tee shots today."

After Stenson's round, however, the focus wasn't on him overcoming a slew of obstacles to get in contention, but rather on him making his first start since being stripped of the European Ryder Cup captaincy for joining the Saudi-backed circuit. Ironically, Luke Donald, who replaced Stenson as captain, is the 18-hole leader at Yas Links.

Stenson said he "absolutely" feels welcome amongst the other players on the DP World Tour, and is at peace with his controversial choice.

Highlights: Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, Round 1

"I made my decision and obviously Ryder Cup Europe made theirs," the five-time Ryder Cupper said. "It's not great but it is what it is, and Ryder Cup has been a huge part of my career. I wish Luke all the best with the team going forward and we'll see where we all end up in the long run with this."

There are still some who have animosity toward Stenson for bolting to LIV and essentially forfeiting his Ryder Cup captaincy. But Stenson doesn't believe it had to be that way.

"The way I look at it, when all of us went to play on the PGA Tour back in the day, we shouldn't have been welcomed back either then," Stenson said. There's multiple tours in the world and as far as I'm concerned, as long as you fulfill your criteria and earn your right to be there, you should be able to play in as many tournaments as you like."

Amid all the turmoil in golf, though, the 2016 Open Champion hopes cooler heads will prevail.

"It's been difficult times obviously," he said. "We're still going through that. I hope we end up in a place where everything works out the best for everyone, players, spectators, tours and everything else. It's been a rocky road, not just on my end the last six months. I think for the most part, people are above that."

And in the midst of his turbulent half-year, Stenson will look to overtake the man who replaced him as European captain and emerge victorious this week in Abu Dhabi.