ATLANTA — It’s not unusual for Henrik Stenson to finish a round with fewer than 14 golf clubs in his bag. That happened a week ago when he slammed his driver into the ground with force and the head came off. There might have been other rounds when he had even fewer clubs when he was done.
But starting a round with only 13 clubs?
That was by accident, not by design. And it didn’t even matter Friday in the Tour Championship.
Even without his 4-wood that broke when Stenson was warming up on the practice range, the Swede still ran off three birdies in the opening four holes at East Lake and stretched his lead to four shots over Adam Scott with a tidy 4-under 66.
He could have used the club once — for his second shot on the par-5 ninth — and he still got up-and-down for birdie.
The only scare came after his round. A rules official met with Stenson to ask him about the 4-wood and whether he had it in the bag. In what might have been his best move of the day, Stenson had the broken club taken to his locker because the face had caved in and he couldn’t use it, anyway.
He didn’t realize that if he had just left it in his bag and not used it, the penalty for carrying a non-conforming club would have been four shots — the margin of his lead. If he had used it, Stenson would have been disqualified.
A television viewer saw the incident and called the PGA Tour. It quickly became a moot point with the club in the locker.
“You asked me how well I knew the rules the other day. I gave myself 7 out of 10, didn’t I?” he said. “I guess this was in the other 30 percent then. ... Good thing that we put it in the locker before we teed off.”
The way he’s going, a bizarre incident like that might be the only thing that can stop him.
Stenson was at 10-under 130 going into the third round and might be playing a course far less firm. The forecast is for rain most of day, and the starting times have been moved up to this morning with hopes of getting it in.
Tiger Woods is not in position to halt the hottest player in golf. Woods was headed toward the best round of the day, 5-under through 13 holes, when he made double bogey on the 14th, had a triple bogey on the 17th and wound up with a 71. He was 14 shots behind. It was the first time since the 2011 PGA Championship that Woods began a tournament with back-to-back rounds over par.
“I put everything I had into that start and didn’t have much at the end,” Woods said. “Just ran out of gas.”
Scott sputtered at the start. He was one shot behind Stenson and quickly fell five shots behind with a couple of poor tee shots. Scott played the last 14 holes without a bogey and wound up with a 69 that put him at 6-under 134.
The Masters champion chose to look at a different number — not four shots back, but only a guy ahead of him.
“Look, Henrik is playing fantastic, so he’s got this thing under control at the moment. But not for 36 holes,” Scott said. “I think there’s too many good players here. It’s not just myself or someone at 5 under. If it is softer tomorrow because of rain, there could be a lot better scores because it’s playing probably as tricky as it can at the moment.”
Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old rookie, had a 67 and was five shots behind. U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson and Billy Horschel were another shot back.
There’s never a dull moment with Stenson, who only last week made news for all the wrong reasons when he smashed his driver on the final hole of the BMW Championship and tore up his locker at Conway Farms.
“They’re not going to believe me anyway after last week that the 4-wood broke during natural causes,” he said.
His hope was to find a new head in a nearby pro shop, though it was unlikely he could test it in time with the early start today. Told that Stenson only had 13 clubs in the bag, Scott said, “It didn’t seem to bother him.”
Stenson could not recall another time that he started a round with fewer than the maximum 14 clubs allowed. Finishing a round with fewer than 14? That’s different.
“In general, I try to keep it at 14,” he said. “Most rounds I manage to finish with 14 as well.”
Stenson (No. 2) and Scott (No. 3) are among the top five seeds in the FedEx Cup who could take home the $10 million bonus by winning the Tour Championship. Woods could still win the FedEx Cup if both of them falter, which is looking unlikely halfway through the tournament.
The advantage goes to Stenson halfway through the tournament.
“They got more work to do than I have,” he said. “It might seem like a large lead, but four shots during two rounds is not that much. We know sometimes four shots isn’t enough on nine holes. So I’m pretty cool about that. I’m just going to go out and try to do the best I can for the next two days. And hopefully, that’s good enough.”