Woods, McIlroy on top at BMW Championship

Rory McIlroy addresses a putt during first round play at the BMW Championship. Photo credit: Chris Pohl/DYSTGolf.com

Newtown Square, PA –Aronimink Golf Club played to sunny skies and with a heat index in the mid-90’s making the coursse very scoreable, especially for the longer hitters.

After all 69 golfers finished their respective rounds and the dust settled, one thing held true, Tiger Woods is in the lead of a PGA TOUR event, along with Rory McIlroy by one stroke over Xander Schauffele.

Woods, who entered this week a cumulative 2-over par in first round play this season, also fired a 29 on his first nine which is the second-lowest 9-hole score of his PGA TOUR career, while the round also served as the right-hander’s second-lowest opening round, and lowest since the 1999 Byron Nelson.

“My biggest takeaway was that I made some putts,” he said. “I got off to a better start than I have most of the season.”

Woods made another putter change prior to this week, going back to his tried-and-true Scotty Cameron putter and the results led to his first lead/co-lead after 18 holes in five years which came at the WGC-Mexico Championship.

“I’ve been monkeying around with it back home and in the backyard,” he said. “I know the release point and I know how it swings and my body morphed into a position where it understands where it needs to be to release the putter. I’ve had it since ’99. When I was using the Nike putter, I always brought it out and hit putts with it. Sometimes it works, but it just feels very familiar to me.”

Perhaps the highlight of Woods’s day was his play of the par-5 16th hole. Woods selected a 3-iron for a shot 230 yards away and curved his approach to within 5’1” and made the putt for eagle, the ball emphatically dropping in the hole.

Woods believed this score was a possibility because of ample fairways and wide, soft greens. He stated that with the ball seemingly going forever, Aronimink is just not playing to its yardage.

One thing that was certainly different in comparison to other weeks was Woods not participating in Wednesday’s pro-am.

Instead, Woods went to the gym, got some treatment done and watched a lot of tennis.

“I needed (a day off), I really did,” said Woods. “I just played a lot of golf these last six weeks and needed a day to recover and make sure I was fresh for today. I wanted to manage it and so disappointed I didn’t play in the Pro-Am, but again it was the best thing for me.”

Woods is projected to move to fifth in the FedExCup points standings after Thursday which if it were to hold could secure him an automatic FedExCup victory were he to win the TOUR Championship.

McIlroy, Schauffele in pursuit

It may seem hard to believe given all of the attention Woods has been getting that there are 68 golfers in the field but in fact there are and 47 more of them had rounds under par.

Rory McIlroy recorded bogeys on two of his last three holes, but still was able to fire off a round of 62 thanks in part to a career-best six consecutive birdies made starting at the turn on the par-4 18th through the par-3 5th hole.

“Look, if someone had given me a 62 on the first tee this morning, I would have taken it, so it’s a great way to start the golf tournament,” McIlroy said. “My game feels obviously in really good shape. My wedge play has been much better and I putted well. I am looking forward to getting back out there early in the morning and trying to get it going again.”

This tournament also represents the last time McIlroy led or co-led after a first round as he accomplished that in 2014 and again in the 2012 edition before winning that week.

McIlroy entered the week 24th in the FedExCup Playoffs standings.

Schauffele has plenty to play for this week as he is someone who is being seriously considered for the final spot on the American Ryder Cup team.

“I feel like I need a win and that might not be enough,” he said. “Tony (Finau) is an ATM or a top-10 machine. He’s been killing it and playing great golf. I feel like if I were Jim (Furyk) right now, I would pick him, to be completely honest.”

His chances took a boost with his 7-under par round of 63 Thursday afternoon.

Schauffele also needs a big week just to get into the TOUR Championship he won a season ago. Schauffele entered the week 41st in points but was projected 13th by round’s end.

“You’ve got to earn every step.” said Schauffele. “We’re trying to do that. I think the stats are out that whoever won the TOUR Championship never made it back the next year. There’s a reason for that, it’s hard.”

Assessing his day, Schauffele did feel like he got away with a couple of shots and took advantage of short and mid irons he had.

Still, he did say there was work to do with what he called “childish errors”. He defines these as mistakes that a second-year veteran should not be making, including his chip on the par-4 18th hole. Despite the low score, he still feels there is work to do in that department.

BMW Championship First Round Leaderboard

T1. Rory McIlroy -8

T1. Tiger Woods -8

3. Xander Schauffele -7

T4. Billy Horschel -6

T4. Alex Noren -6

T4. Peter Ulhein -6

T4. Justin Thomas -6

T8. Byeong Hun An -5

T8. Ryan Armour -5

T8. Rickie Fowler -5

T8. Aron Wise -5

The 19th hole

Rickie Fowler played his first event in the FedExCup Playoffs and finished 5-under par. His shoes gathered attention and were a tribute to Jarrod Lyle.

“Jarrod and I were real close,” he said. “Sent these down to a guy in Miami, Nomad Customs, he did them. Actually had them at the PGA on the weekend but I didn’t have anything to wear with them, so I couldn’t really make it work. I thought it would be a fun time to bring them out and obviously we don’t want to ever forget Jarrod.”

Due to expected weather, second round play will have tee times between 7:00-9:00 a.m. This will advance starting times for over two hours for everyone in the field… Defending champion Marc Leishman had a day to forget finishing with a 4-over par 74. He is tied for last place with fellow Australian Adam Scott… Justin Thomas is tied for fourth place and shot a 6-under par 64 Thursday. The last four times he shot 65 or under, he was holding a trophy by week’s end… The par-5 16th hole played the easiest at a 4.304 clip and the par-3 8th hole proved most difficult to the field with a 3.420 score to par… There were four bogey-free rounds on the day in Rickie Fowler (65), Brian Gay (66), Henrik Stenson (66) and Paul Casey (69).

Photo credit: PGA TOUR

Author: Zac Weiss