LEMONT, Ill. – Playoff fever, catch it.
The PGA Tour, if not the Great Unwashed, hopes Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson can catch it over the final three rounds of the penultimate FedEx Cup playoff event.
On a day when leader Matt Kuchar shot a one-bogey 64 while playing with symptoms of laryngitis, Woods and Mickelson combined to make seven bogeys and a double bogey between them on the opening day of the BMW Championship. Mickelson shot 72, Woods 73, and neither got anything going.
Woods entered the week 51st in FedEx Cup standings and needs probably a top-5 finish to advance into the top 30 and the Tour Championship. Playing with a swing that still isn’t second nature, he has plenty of work to do. He’s tied for 45th at Cog Hill after one round, six shots behind a tie for fourth.
“That’s not bad,” Woods, who had difficulty adapting to the slow greens, said of his position. “Guys aren’t going low at this place because the greens aren’t good enough to go low.”
Woods had a nightmare start. He drove way right at No. 1, came up way short in a bunker, blasted it just off the fringe, chipped to 4 feet and missed. Double bogey out of the gate. The rest of the way he made three bogeys and three birdies. In the process he hit five of 14 fairways and 10 greens in regulation.
“Probably a handful of times I got caught in between the two takeaways of my old swing and the new swing, and I hit some bad shots,” Woods said. “When I get into funky lies, I still have to make the comitment to the new swing.
“I just started at the PGA (working with instructor Sean Foley), so I think I’ve done a pretty good job implementing it and meanwhile playing in some big events. It’s not easy.”
That’s not to say he didn’t produce some spectacular shots. From 141 yards out in the left trees at No. 10, he cut a 9-iron shot to 9 feet and made birdie. From the rough at the difficult 13th he hit an 8-iron from 202 yards to 9 feet but missed the putt.
Unlike Woods, Mickelson appears a good bet to make it to the Tour Championship. He came into this week sitting 14th in the points list and now stands a projected 16th. He hit 11 greens but took 31 putts, not getting his approaches close and too often was on the wrong tier.
Mickelson played a practice round the day before at Butler National, the all-male, upscale club nearby that used to host the Western Open, and labeled its condition “great” and greens “pristine.”
You might say Mickelson isn’t as fond of Cog Hill, particularly since the changes made to the course by Rees Jones before last year’s tournament. Asked his take on Cog, he said, “It’s interesting.” Asked if it’s harder to play well on a course that one doesn’t have much affection for, he said, “Yes.”