NORTON, Mass. – Zach Johnson and Jason Day beat up on the course and beat the weather at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
For Tiger Woods, it was the other way around.
Johnson strengthened his Ryder Cup case Friday by rolling in putts from everywhere in easy scoring conditions ahead of Hurricane Earl, giving him an 8-under 63 and a share of the lead with Day.
Woods had two bogeys in four holes when the first patch of rain arrived, and it didn’t get much better. He had two more bogeys and was in last place until he fought back for a 72, leaving him three shots below the projected cut. If he doesn’t make the cut Saturday, Woods will not advance to defend his title next week outside Chicago.
“I’m going to have to shoot something good tomorrow, hopefully move up a little bit,” Woods said. “Obviously, get off to a better start than I did today.”
Scoring was so ideal that Johnson and Day had a 63 and still only had a one-shot lead – over eight players. That group included Ryder Cup hopeful Ryan Palmer, Rory McIlroy and Geoff Ogilvy, who had the best score of anyone in the afternoon.
That they finished the first round was a bonus considering the Earl forecast. More surprising was that the wind never arrived, and late starters only had to cope with the nuisance of an occasional shower.
“It had the potential to be the most lopsided draw in history,” Ogilvy said, noting that gusts upward of 50 mph were expected. “It was way better than we assumed it was going to be.”
The outer bands of Earl began arriving right after Johnson and Day finished. But after a 1 1/2-hour rain delay, there was little more than a breeze along with a few bursts of rain, none long enough that Woods ever put on a rain jacket.
Woods’ problem was putting his tee shots into the short grass – he missed eight of 14 fairways – and not converting enough putts. He officially entered the BMW Championship next week, a formality, and now has to finish inside the top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings. Woods started the week in 65th place.
Phil Mickelson, with his 10th chance to replace Woods at No. 1 in the world, opened with a 69.
Getting to the third round of the playoffs is not an issue for Johnson. His hopes this week start with the Ryder Cup, knowing that Corey Pavin will announce his four captain’s picks on Tuesday in New York.
Most players believe Johnson is in good shape to get one of the picks, and opening with a 63 certainly didn’t hurt.
“It would be an honor, and I want to get on that team very, very bad,” Johnson said. “But you can justify the case for a number of guys. I’m not concerned about it. I’m going to let things fall where they fall. I feel like if I keep performing decent, then I’ll have a pretty good chance.”
Day, the 36-hole leader last week at The Barclays, shot 30 on the back nine.
Defending champion Steve Stricker, who has an outside shot to go to No. 1 in the world this week, was in the group at 65. Matt Kuchar, who won last week at The Barclays and leads the FedEx Cup standings, was in the group at 66.
One thing was clear under a gray sky south of Boston – the early starters had an advantage. Of the 27 players who shot 66 or better, only seven of those rounds came in the afternoon. Even in conditions that were calm and dry, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway. The tour had to do that in case the first round was not completed Friday and the course became saturated.
Combine that with the shorter tees and accessible pins, and birdies were easy to find.
“There’s a lot of deep scores out there,” Day said. “It was out there today. Hopefully, this thing can blow through and not hit us too hard. But I’ll probably try and put his round behind me and just focus on the next round.”
What makes Johnson so appealing as a captain’s pick is his short game, and that was evident Friday.
He chipped in from behind the 10th green for birdie on his opening hole, made a 30-foot birdie on the 11th, and his day got even better when he holed a 35-foot birdie on the 17th over a knob on the green. He made two birdies on the par 5s with his wedge game and hit his best shot on the par-3 eighth, a 6-iron to about 6 feet.
“This is probably the easiest this golf course can play,” Johnson said. “So I’m not taking anything for granted right now. I’m excited about the remainder of the week.”
Woods hit driver more times Friday than he did all last week at Ridgewood, and all but one of his missed fairways were to the left. He had to pitch out sideways on the 15th and scrambled just to make bogey.
He turned it around with consecutive birdies on the 17th and 18th, but lost three good chances on his front nine.
“I just didn’t have it today,” Woods said. “I wasn’t really doing what I was supposed to be doing out there swing-wise, and then wasn’t releasing the blade out there and was dragging it a little bit. It was a bad day all round.”