5 Things: Poulter's breakthrough; Kirk's justice
The second leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs started in earnest with Phil Mickelson making a move early in Norton, Mass., just outside of Boston.
An 8-under 63 gave Mickelson the early lead at the Deutsche Bank Championship, a lead that he now shares entering Saturday’s second round after Brian Davis equaled Mickelson’s 63 Friday afternoon at TPC Boston.
Others made moves Friday, including Kevin Stadler, who is solo second at 7 under. Hunter Mahan, Sergio Garcia and Roberto Castro are another shot back at 6 under while Ian Poulter, Jason Dufner and Matt Kuchar are among those at 5 under.
Here are 5 Things you need to know from Friday’s action at the Deutsche Bank Championship:
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1. POULTER BUCKS BOSTON TREND: It was a near-flawless day, save for a sloppy three-putt bogey at the par-3 eighth, for Ian Poulter, who seemed prepared to savor his lowest score at TPC Boston, a 5-under 66.
Then came a question built around the reality that he’s never fared well at this Deutsche Bank Championship.
“Thanks for reminding me, I’m trying to ignore that one,” Poulter said.
Sorry, old chap. But the truth is, Poulter in six trips to TPC Boston has missed four cuts, finished no better than T-45 and recorded just three sub-70 scores in 16 tries.
Make that four in 17 starts now, because with three birdies going out and three more coming in, Poulter finished Round 1 in a tie for seventh, three off the lead.
True, it was a blistering day of scoring – 55 players shot 69 or better – but Poulter is not focused on that, either. Nor does he concern himself with his position in the FedEx Cup standings – he is 77th – despite taking a big step toward moving himself inside the top 70 and into the BMW Championship in two weeks.
“I’m not thinking about anything,” Poulter said. “I’m trying to win the golf tournament. I’m not here thinking, ‘I have to shoot X. I have to do this. I have to do that.’ The simple facts are, if I do enough this week, I’ll be playing in the BMW. And if I do enough there, I’ll be playing in Atlanta.
“And if I don’t, I’ll be having lots of time off. Simple, really.”
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2. POETIC JUSTICE: No player likes to think the game owes him anything, but in a sense, Chris Kirk thinks there was a bit of poetic justice in his round of 5-under 66.
The 52-foot birdie putt on his 18th hole, the par-4 ninth?
"Unexpected," Kirk conceded, especially after he sent his drive wide right before leaving himself a long birdie try.
Did it feel like a gift? In a way, yes, but considering what had happened on his ninth hole, the par-5 18th, Kirk felt he was owed something.
Back on No. 18, Kirk's second shot from 211 yards was slightly right of the green on approach – and then it was well right. His ball struck an "old-fashioned, thick wooden rake" and ricocheted over a bunker and into the hazard. The best Kirk could do was hit his third shot long and back over the green before leaving his fourth shot in the rough.
"I was in bad position and it kept getting worse," Kirk said of his only double bogey of the round.
If the mishap was tough to swallow, given that Kirk was level par after No. 18, he put it out of his mind with a splendid 5-under 31 on the front. It also made the birdie at No. 9 even sweeter.
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3. GETTING BACK ON TRACK: Scott Piercy has suffered from a bad right elbow for most of this season. But a cortisone shot on the Sunday after the final round of the RBC Canadian Open has turned out to be the best course of action, potentially putting Piercy back on track at just the right time.
Working his way back into contention after two months (June and July) of not playing on the weekend, Piercy has not missed a cut since the Open Championship.
Since leaving Muirfield early, Piercy recorded a 52nd-place finish in Canada, a 59th-place showing at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a fifth-place finish at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill – that included a 65 in the final round – and a 43rd-place performance last week at The Barclays.
“Score was good overall,” Piercy said of his 3-under 68 in Friday’s first round. “It was not the prettiest of days, but I missed it good, hit a lot of mis‑hits, ended up decent. I made a lot of really good two‑putts for pars and just kind of collected birdies and made a couple good par putts that made a big difference.”
Early this week Piercy spent time working with Peter Jacobson, a disciple of his coaches Jim Hardy and Chris O’Connell. Unlike Hardy or O’Connell, Jacobson had a players’ feeling for some of the issues – both good and bad – that Piercy was feeling, and provided some invaluable feedback.
The two-time winner on the PGA Tour also decided to make a slight change in equipment, adding KBS iron shafts to all but his 3-iron. Piercy believes that the change in shafts took some spin off the ball and are a little stronger.
“I get a lot of numbers where I might be into a little breeze like we have today, and say I hit a 9‑iron 145 and I'll have 145, and I'll feel like I have to hit an 8‑iron,” Piercy said, citing the reason for the change. “I can't just hit like a nice solid flat 9 and just come up just a little short, or I'll kind of hit a little bit of an up shooter sort of thing that kind of catches me in the middle a lot.
“Then in down wind you get the same situation. The ball speed is up with these irons for whatever reason. If I'm swinging decent I'll get kind of what I want to see out of them.”
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4. RUNNING ON EMPTY: The Jackson Browne song, “Running on Empty,” is something that Henrik Stenson understands all too well.
Playing in his sixth event dating to the Scottish Open in mid-July, the Swede is in a word: pooped.
With five top 3s before a disappointing-but-understandable 43rd-place finish last week at The Barclays, Stenson needs a break.
“It's been a fantastic summer with some really great results,” Stenson said. “I think I'm just paying a little bit of the price of not being able to get rested enough at this point. I'm kind of running on the spare tank at the moment, and I've picked up a little bit of a cold, as well.”
Opening with a 4-under 67, Stenson recorded his fourth consecutive opening round in the 60s, and again finds himself near the top of the leaderboard.
The last time Stenson played in Boston was during the 2007 FedEx Cup playoffs, where the Swede opened with a 5-under 66, but faded down the stretch and finished 55th. He went on to qualify for the BMW Championship, but would not advance to the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
“It’s kind of the crucial point now,” Stenson said of his position in the playoffs (ninth). “Keep on trying to manage the game, but more than anything try and get the energy levels back up again for the last two FedEx events.”
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have been paired together 33 times since the 1997 PGA Championship. Woods holds a 15-14-4 head-to-head record against Lefty during that span. Mickelson, who outscored Woods by five shots Friday, hadn’t played with Woods since the first two rounds of the 2012 U.S. Open, which Woods outscored by eight strokes in those two rounds. . . . Jason Dufner’s 66 Friday at TPC Boston was his lowest round since the 63 he shot in the second round of the PGA Championship at Oak Hill. . . . There are currently nine players projected to drop out of the top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings after Round 1. That number includes David Lingmerth, Michael Thompson, Tim Clark and Kyle Stanley.