Henrik Stenson glad to be in UAE for Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship amid golf’s 'civil war'

Swede playing his first DP World Tour event since being removed as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain for switching to LIV Golf

Henrik Stenson of Sweden talks to his caddie on the 18th hole during the first round of Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Thursday, January 19, 2023. AP
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Despite returning to a country he once called home, and a tour on which he was once the darling, Henrik Stenson might still have felt trepidation ahead of his Thursday three-ball at Yas Links.

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is the first DP World Tour event Stenson has played since he was removed as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain last June for switching to LIV Golf.

The Swede had been due to lead the side in the match against the United States in Rome later this year, which would have been due reward for a stellar career on tour.

A sporting arbitration case in early February will determine whether LIV members such as Stenson, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, who are also playing in the capital this week, can continue to play on the DP World Tour.

The issue has been termed golf’s “civil war”, and Stenson might have been wary of the reception he was going to get on his return. In truth, it was scarcely more than lukewarm, given his 7.50am tee time.

No more than a handful of spectators had made it to the first to see him start. As Stenson strolled onto the tee box, dressed in black trousers and a black hoodie, his greeting from playing partners Soren Kjeldsen and Paul Waring was perfectly civil.

England's Luke Donald finished the opening morning at the top of the leaderboard. AFP

Asked, after he had signed for an opening round of 4-under-par 68, whether he felt welcome, Stenson said: “Absolutely. No question.”

The 46-year-old has won 11 times on the European Tour, with the vast majority of those titles earned while he lived in the Meadows, Dubai.

“It's been good to be back,” he said. “I played these events for 20-odd years. It's always fun to come back and see everyone."

Stenson was philosophical about what has happened since he decided to join the Saudi-backed LIV tour, and said he harboured no resentment.

“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.

“If you're friends with someone, you're friends with them no matter where they choose to work.

“And sometimes, even if someone makes a decision that you don't necessarily agree with, or think is the right one with the information and the circumstances that you have in front of you, if you're friends, you can look past that. That's what I feel here.”

In a twist of fate, Luke Donald, the player who has replaced Stenson as Europe’s captain, finished the opening morning at the top of the leaderboard.

The Englishman, who teed off at the same time as Stenson, albeit starting at the 10th hole, posted an 8-under 64 to lead by one shot from Jason Scrivener and Guido Migliozzi.

Updated: January 19, 2023, 11:07 AM