Stenson shot a six-under-par 64 at East Lake to lead the 30-man field aiming to win the first prize of $1.4 million (£875,000) and the $10m (£6.24m) bonus for winning the FedEx Cup. The 37-year-old world No 6 made seven birdies, including four in succession from holes four to seven.
It was a stark contrast to the end of Stenson’s rain-delayed final round in the BMW Championship on Monday, when he took out his frustrations at a closing 74 on his driver, smacking it so hard on the ground on the 18th that its head flew off. He then damaged his locker at Conway Farms in frustration.
Stenson’s inward half was less spectacular and he bogied the par-4 16th, allowing world No 2 Adam Scott to draw level at the top of the leaderboard. The Australian blitzed the back nine, shooting six birdies, to close on 65. But Stenson birdied the last to claim a one-shot lead. The Swede is one of five players who control their own destiny in Atlanta, with Scott, Tiger Woods, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar also in with a chance of a $10m pay day.
Woods had a day to forget, finishing second last after a 73. It was only the seventh time in his professional career that Woods completed a competitve round without a birdie. Only Jason Dufner was behind the world No 1 with a 74.
Zach Johnson and Kuchar were both five off the lead after opening 69s.