LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Brandt Snedeker was making so many birdies that even an 18-foot putt looked like a mere tap-in.
When he finished his amazing run Thursday in the BMW Championship, he had seven straight birdies on his card and an 8-under 63 at blustery Conway Farms.
“You get on runs like that, you get excited for the next hole because you know something good is going to happen, because you’re in such a good frame of mind and everything is going in the right direction,” Snedeker said.
In this case, everything was going in — a 15-foot putt from the fringe on the 13th, another 15-footer on the next hole when he used the blade of his sand wedge to bump the ball out of the short rough, and a 40-footer from the fringe on the 17th stood out to him.
That gave him a one-shot lead over Zach Johnson in the third FedEx Cup playoff event. Tiger Woods sounded disgusted with his round of 66, mainly because he had a pair of three-putt bogeys and missed a 4-foot birdie putt over his last five holes.
“I’m not exactly real happy,” Woods said. “I played well, and I just didn’t get much out of that round. I missed three little short ones in there and then played the par 5s even par. That’s just not very good.”
Steve Stricker, Charl Schwartzel and Kevin Streelman also were at 66.
The opening round was mainly about the debut of Conway Farms, a Tom Fazio design north of Chicago which has a blend of strong holes and plenty of birdie opportunities on par 4s where players hit wedge for their second shot. Low scoring was predicted, and Snedeker’s round was proof of that.
But as the wind picked up and shifted directions, the course was far from a pushover.
Rickie Fowler opened with a pair of double bogeys, followed by a pair of bogeys. He rallied for a 77. Rory McIlroy made a double bogey — his ninth of the FedEx Cup playoffs — on his second hole, and then three-putted from 4 feet for a triple bogey and staggered to a 78. Lee Westwood, fighting severe pain in his back and ribs, had an 80.
“There’s a good mixture of really hard holes and really good birdie opportunities. I think that makes for exciting golf,” Phil Mickelson said after opening with a 70. “That’s why we have such a discrepancy in scores.”
The top 30 players in the FedEx Cup after the BMW Championship advance to the Tour Championship next week and a shot at the $10 million prize.
Westwood is at No. 30 and likely played himself out of a trip to East Lake, though he didn’t appear to be healthy enough to play. McIlroy is at No. 41 and all but took himself out of the Tour Championship. He needs to finish somewhere around seventh in the 70-man field. His 78 put him in a tie for 66th.
“It’s going to be a very uphill task,” McIlroy said. “I’ll try to get to even par as quickly as I can.”
That still might not be enough the way Snedeker is playing.
Snedeker is at No. 9 in the FedEx Cup and assured of being the first defending FedEx Cup champion to make it to the Tour Championship. He is trying to move into the top five, for those players have a clear shot at the $10 million bonus — all they have to do is win at East Lake no matter what anyone else does.
He wouldn’t have imagined this kind of round at the start of the day. He didn’t warm up well and didn’t feel good with the putter. Snedeker missed the 10th fairway to start his round and had to make an 18-footer for par. He missed the 11th green and had to scramble for par. He missed a good look at birdie from the 12 feet on the next hole.
The next hour was a blur.
“When I get going good, I realize it doesn’t happen all the time, so I instantly become more aggressive,” he said. “I think being a good putter helps, too, because I don’t really have to hit it three feet eight times in a row. Just got to hit the green sometimes and it’s going to happen. I realize these runs are few and far between, so when I get on one, I try to run as hard as I can for as long as I can.”
The blustery conditions kept scoring from getting out of hand, and the average score was at 71.3.
No one had less experience on the course than Mickelson, who had some personal issues earlier in the week that kept him from playing the pro-am. He didn’t arrive in Chicago until Wednesday night and had never seen the course until he stood on the first tee Thursday.
Mickelson did not want to talk about what kept him away. When asked if it was a family matter, he said, “Everything is fine. I’m here now, I’m ready to play. But I just needed to be a little cautious this first round before I attack it tomorrow.”