Rickie Fowler and Jason Day faced enough stress just to make sure they got into the PGA Tour’s postseason. Now that they’re here, they want to keep going.
Fowler had a change of caddies and putters and finally started to see some putts fall, though still not enough to his liking. Day recovered from a spiked fever and burning sensation in his eyes and played bogey-free Thursday at the TPC Southwind. Both had a 5-under 65.
That wasn’t good enough to lead the FedEx St. Jude Championship, only to hope.
Si Woo Kim holed out from 167 yards in the 18th fairway for eagle to cap off a superb finish of 6-under par on his last six holes, giving him a 62 and a share of the lead with J.J. Spaun.
Sahith Theegala, who could make a strong case for PGA Tour rookie of the year, holed a 30-foot putt on his final hole for a 63. Among those another shot back was Tony Finau, coming off two straight victories. It was Finau’s 10th consecutive round at 68 or lower, dating to a 66 in the final round of the British Open.
But as the FedEx Cup playoffs begin, the emphasis is as much on who advances. Only the top 70 from the 125 players who qualified advance to the BMW Championship next week, and then the top 30 move on to the finale at East Lake.
Fowler made it on the number – No. 125 – and needs his best golf of the last two years to get through to the next round.
“Nothing to lose,” Fowler said. “Being 125, obviously need to play well just to make it to next week, but it would be a big bonus if we can do that and move on. Kind of leave it all out there, see what happens, but definitely happy with the start.”
He was helped late in his round with a 4-iron from 220 yards to 6 feet for eagle.
Day and Fowler were outside the top 125 three weeks ago until the PGA Tour decided that players suspended for going over to Saudi-funded LIV Golf should not count in the standings. That improved them nine spots, and Day also was helped by a 66 on the final day in Detroit to tie for 17th and secure his spot in the postseason.
That was a good thing, too, because last week he opened with a 67 and then had to withdraw with an illness. He knew he was in trouble when he fell asleep at breakfast before the next round. His eyes were burning. His fever spiked. Day wasn’t sure how bad the fever was, but he checked his temperature the next day when he felt much better and it was 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 Celsius).
The big takeaway was that he felt he was trending in the right direction, and the game felt that way on a soft, muggy morning that feature occasional light rain.
As for the pressure? Day feels it’s always there for him, but at this point, he’s trying to let good golf happen instead of trying to force it, and not get too caught up in his position.
Day and Fowler were in a tie for eighth, not quite enough for either to advance on a day when the average score was 68.6. There’s a long way to go.
“It does nothing for me to look ahead,” he said, “but I do want to play next week.”
Taylor Pendrith and Adam Svensson are the top Canadians, sitting four shots back of the lead after a 4-under 66 opening round. Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., and Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., shot 3-under 67 to be five shots out of the lead.
Kim and Spaun, who had eight birdies in such a clean round he couldn’t even think which shot was the best, are both assured of playing next week. Spaun began the postseason at No. 25 on the strength of his first PGA Tour title at the Valero Texas Open.
That win sent him immediately to Augusta National for the Masters, such a quick turnaround that he didn’t get a chance to soak up the experience. He tied for 23rd and would like nothing better to return. Making it to the FedEx Cup finale is likely to do the trick.
“It will be nice to punch another ticket there and be able to plan it out and get down Sunday, maybe even Saturday the week before, take my time and enjoy all the little things that come along with that great tradition,” Spaun said. “Hopefully keep playing well this week and the next couple weeks, and I’ll be there.”
Scottie Scheffler has the luxury of a slow start as No. 1 in the world and in the FedEx Cup, and that’s a good thing. The Masters champion had a frustrating day of a few odd bounces and a lot of missed chances on the green for a 71.
Rory McIlroy had to make two late birdies to salvage a 70. For everyone, the next step is making the cut. It means more to some than others.