LEMONT, Ill. — Two days after his Presidents Cup snub, Rory Sabbatini made captain Greg Norman’s decision to leave him off the International team look even more peculiar.
Sabbatini ran off seven birdies on renovated Cog Hill for a 5-under 66 on Thursday, giving him a share of the lead with Steve Marino at the BMW International and hopes of making it to the FedEx Cup finale.
They had a one-shot lead over Bo Van Pelt and Marc Leishman, who only qualified for the third playoff event by making an eagle on his final hole Monday at the TPC Boston.
Tiger Woods, a four-time winner at Cog Hill, was among those at 68.
Sabbatini won the Byron Nelson Championship in May and appeared to be in good shape to make the Presidents Cup team until Y.E. Yang stunned the golf world with his comeback win over Woods at the PGA Championship to bump Sabbatini out of the top 10.
Norman then used his two captain’s picks on 17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa of Japan, who has won four times in the last calendar year; and Adam Scott, who is in the worst slump of his career and has fallen out of the top 50 in the world ranking.
Right after his low round, Sabbatini took the high road.
“If I’d been playing well over the past couple weeks and didn’t get picked, I might have something to complain about,” said Sabbatini, who has missed four cuts in his last eight starts and has not finished in the top 30 since winning in Dallas. “But you know what? The situation is such … I’m here this week. I’m going to focus on this.”
Scott had two top 10s this year — the Sony Open in January and the Scottish Open in July — without another finish in the top 20. Norman said Scott, a fellow Australian, was “the logical choice.”
What disturbed Sabbatini was not hearing from Norman or anyone else during the three weeks after the PGA Championship when the captain makes his two selections.
“There was not a single conversation or a single phone call, period,” Sabbatini said. “You could say I was a little disappointed.”
The spunky South African was hardly disappointed by anything at Cog Hill, which received a facelift from Rees Jones as the public course in the Chicago suburbs. It is longer and tougher, with deeper bunkers, and it was reflected in the scoring.
The weather was close to perfect, with sunshine and mild wind. When the BMW Championship was last played at Cog Hill two years ago, in soft conditions from rain, Woods won at 22-under 262.
Woods at least kept himself in the mix this week, making a few good par saves and three birdie putts inside 5 feet.
“I think anything under par is a really good score,” Woods said. “Usually, it takes a little bit before the guys get accustomed to what the scoring is going to be. The whole idea is, I think more than anything, the guys are trying to get accustomed to where to miss the golf ball, because the misses are so different than what they used to be.”
Steve Stricker, whose victory last week in the Deutsche Bank Championship put him atop the FedEx Cup standings, had a three-putt from 10 feet at the turn and didn’t make another birdie until his final hole for a 72.
Heath Slocum, The Barclays winner who is No. 3 in the standings behind Woods, opened with a 1-under 70.
Only 70 players qualified for this third playoff event, and the top 30 advance to the Tour Championship in two weeks with a chance to win the $10 million bonus.
Sabbatini (No. 35) and Marino (No. 26) are simply trying to get there.
“It’s on my mind a little bit, but I’m trying not to think about it too much,” Marino said. “I’m just trying to treat this like any other tournament and just try to do the best I can.”
The surprise is Leishman, who would have finished outside the top 70 in the standings if not for his eagle putt on the last hole. He kept right on rolling at Cog Hill, running off four birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn and keeping bogeys off his card.
“Three more 67s would be good,” Leishman said. “I mean, I’ve got nothing to lose. Probably top five I would have to do to get to the Tour Championship, so it’s either that or a couple weeks off. Go hard or go home, I guess. Hopefully, I can go hard.”
The group at 68 included Geoff Ogilvy and Padraig Harrington, both already in the top 10 in the standings. Ogilvy was the first player to get to 5 under, which he attributed to a few long birdie putts. He took a double bogey on the seventh hole by hitting his tee shot into the water, yet recovered with consecutive birdies to end his round.