By Mark Lamport-Stokes
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Professional golf's fickle nature and the difficulty for players to find consistency in form could hardly have been better contrasted by Tiger Woods and Henrik Stenson in the opening round of the Tour Championship.
Woods came into the PGA Tour's season-ending event hunting a third FedExCup playoff title and a sixth victory this year but tumbled out of contention with a three-over-par 73 at East Lake, failing to make a single birdie in a woeful putting display.
His playing partner Stenson, just three days after smashing the head of his driver in disgust during the final round of the weather-delayed BMW Championship in Chicago, charged to the top of the leaderboard with a superb 64 on Thursday.
Two very different performances on a long and challenging East Lake layout where any error can be costly, and world number one Woods was so frustrated by his round that he declined to speak to reporters after he had signed his card.
"Obviously, frustrating (for him) on the greens," Swede Stenson said of the 34 putts totaled by Woods, who failed to register a single birdie in a PGA Tour round for only the eighth time in his career. "He didn't make a birdie out there.
"That's very unusual. I wouldn't say he was playing bad, but he missed a couple of times in the wrong spot and made bogeys on three occasions. If you're not making any birdies, then it's going to be a bad day, simple as that.
"On a good day, you might make one or two up-and-downs and then roll a couple in. We know how small the margins are. He could have been two under or one under with the same play if he had just taken his opportunities."
Woods has recorded eight top-10s in just 15 starts on the 2013 PGA Tour, including five victories and a tie for second at The Barclays, but has not been at his best in his last two appearances, especially in the final round.
Stenson was delighted with his form in the opening round at East Lake, especially having come into this week worried about tendinitis in his left wrist and desperately needing to improve his mental approach after a poor finish at the BMW Championship.
RIPPED OUT LOCKER DOOR
The Swede had won the previous playoff event, the Deutsche Bank Championship, to put himself in position to claim overall FedExCup honors but was so disgusted after closing with a 74 in Chicago that he ripped his locker door off its hinges.
"I really knew I had to be in a good frame of mind coming out there if I wanted to play good golf this week," said the Swede, who is known for occasional hot-headed displays when his golfing form has not gone the way he wanted.
"As some of you noticed, I wasn't that on Monday when I finished up in Chicago. So it was a good turnaround here mentally. I stayed very level-headed, kept the head on, on both myself and drivers, and played a great round of golf."
Asked how he managed to transform his mood so quickly from dismantling a locker door to tearing apart a tough East Lake layout, Stenson replied: "I just needed to realize the world is a good place again.
"I've always been a bit of a hot head, and it kind of builds up, and eventually it goes over the limit. To me, it comes down to being tired. I have played so much golf, I played so well (this year), and I just haven't been able to get any rest.
"I was looking forward to that Monday back home and lying on the couch, the kids in school and me just doing nothing, and I ended up playing golf again on that Monday. I was just tired, and I pushed myself over the edge there."
Stenson, who says he has apologized to the locker room attendants at Conway Farms for his violent outburst there, has got himself back into a prime position to claim the FedExCup title this week, and its staggering bonus of $10 million.
His opening 64, which included an electrifying run of five birdies in six holes on his outward nine, has projected him to rise from second in the FedExCup points standings to number one, ahead of Masters champion Adam Scott (second) and Woods (third).
"It's still very early in the tournament," Stenson smiled. "One day down, got another three to go."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)