SHANGHAI, Apr 20 (Reuters) Henrik Stenson took advantage of perfect conditions to shoot a five-under-par 67 for a one-stroke lead early in the opening round of the Asian Open today.
The 30-year-old Swede struggled to a share of 20th in high winds and sand storms at the China Open in Beijing last week and found the balmy weather at the Tomson Pudong Golf Club much more to his liking.
''It was dead calm...the greens are putting well and the sun is shining,'' the world number 15 told reporters.
Six birdies, a single bogey and a rescued par after his ball had found water at the seventh left him a shot ahead of Frenchman Jean Van de Velde and Briton Stephen Gallacher, who shared second after 68s.
Stenson is trying to recapture form that sent him racing up the world rankings and won him the Qatar Masters earlier this season.
''I had birdie chances on virtually every hole and knocked a few of them in,'' he said. ''Hopefully we're moving in the right direction and I can keep it up tomorrow.'' IDEAL CONDITIONS Van de Velde, who battled with career-threatening injuries from 2002 to 2005, said winning the Madeira Open last month and thereby securing his tour card had taken a great weight off his shoulders.
''There's no doubt about it at all, if you're not in that happy club of a few players with exemptions at the start of the season then you are definitely starting from zero,'' the 39-year-old said.
A bogey he described as ''silly'' at his penultimate hole was the only blemish on his card today but he picked up a shot to close his round, a fine chip leaving him with a three-foot putt for a fifth birdie.
''The conditions were ideal...and I knew it was a morning to put it together if you could,'' he said.
Colin Montgomerie made a fine start but his putting woes returned and the Briton bogeyed his final hole to drop to a share of fourth with Dane Thomas Bjorn, Australian Marcus Fraser and Frankie Minoza of the Phillipines after a 69.
China's great hope Zhang Lianwei was looking good at two-under after 14 holes but consecutive bogeys left him level par for the day.
''I don't even give myself an average grade for that round,'' the disappointed 40-year-old said.
REUTERS DH BD1157