DUBAI // So, the leader in the Race to Dubai is fastest out of the traps.
Henrik Stenson, seeking this week to hold off the challenge of eight potential European No 1s, underlined his supremacy with the best round of the season-title candidates at the DP World Tour Championship.
Justin Rose, heading the pursuit, indicated the chasing pack may be in for a rough few days.
“He’s got his name on the board and making it hard on everyone,” said Rose after watching firsthand as Stenson posted a 68.
Rose, though, was content to be in the running after a 70 that did not feel very sharp, hindered somewhat by a sore right shoulder. “I was kind of not really firing on all cylinders,” he said.
“Nothing felt that good out there. Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with the result.”
He may find extra comfort in his playing partner’s three-putt bogey on the last hole; Stenson’s lone bogey on an otherwise blemish-free card. The Swede sits only two shots behind tournament leader Alejandro Canizares.
“I’ll take that,” Stenson said. “I just let my focus slip. I’m tired. It’s been a long year, but I’m still in good shape. One day down and three to go.”
Of the contenders for the Race crown, barring a highly unlikely sequence of results, the eventual victor will come from the top four: Stenson, Rose, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter.
Victory at the Earth Course for any of the lead three guarantees the 2013 season trophy or, to mimic McDowell’s post-round comments, he and the two above him are firmly in control of their own destiny.
“You can’t win it today – cliche, blah, blah, blah,” he said after shaking off a sluggish start in which he fell nine strokes off the lead. He rebounded to post a level-par 72. “I’m still in it,” he added. “I’ve won many tournaments from right here.”
As for Poulter, a solid 69 still left him grinding his teeth at unconverted putts down the stretch. On 18, he angrily slapped his thigh when a 15-footer for birdie passed the cup.
Poulter has made 68 birdies and two eagles in three events leading into the season finale, so his response was hardly surprising when asked what it will take to win and pass the three players in front of him, especially the stoic Stenson.
“Birdie every hole. Simple,” Poulter said. “Play aggressive.”
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