Stenson no longer under the radar after opening 69


PINEHURST, N.C. – It’s difficult to imagine the No. 2-ranked player in the world flying under the radar at a major championship, but Henrik Stenson appears to have pulled it off.

While much of the early-week storylines at the U.S. Open centered around Phil Mickelson’s quest for the career grand slam, or Bubba Watson’s search for a second consecutive major, or Adam Scott protecting his top ranking, Stenson has drummed up hardly any buzz. That may change after the Swede carded a 1-under 69 Thursday at Pinehurst No. 2.

“I played nicely. Some of the best I’ve played all year, I think,” said Stenson, who found 14 of 18 greens in regulation. “Anything in red numbers at the U.S. Open is always taken, and I’m happy with that.”

A winner of both the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai titles last year, Stenson balanced four birdies against three bogeys in his opening round. Still in search of his first career major, he has had solid – albeit unspectacular – results in 2014, with only one top-10 finish in eight starts on the PGA Tour this season.

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“I’m battling kind of the hangover from last year in terms of energy, more so the first couple of months,” Stenson said. “I came in here, I hadn’t touched a club for six days. That’s not normally a lead-up to a major, but I did some work early on in the week and I feel like I’m playing my way into better form.”

While plenty of holes were forcing players into big numbers during the first round, Stenson felt the most difficult hole – or at least, green – was on the par-5 fifth, which played under par for the day.

“If you guys want to see some disasters, you should get a hot dog, Snickers and Coke and head down to No. 5, because that’s as hard as it can ever get,” said Stenson, who birdied the hole. “I think at one point (my approach) was about 15 feet away for eagle. And then I got an extremely difficult bunker shot next from about 25 yards up the hill, and I hit it to about a foot. But if it goes another foot, it's off the green on the other side.

“That green, yeah, you’re just happy if you get it to stay on the surface.”