EDISON, N.J. – Matt Kuchar returned to beautiful sunshine and a birdie Friday morning to take the lead at The Barclays.
Kuchar, who won the opening FedEx Cup playoff event last year on a different course, was among 51 players who did not finish the rain-delayed first round. He drove into a greenside bunker on the reachable par-4 18th, blasted out to 3 feet and rapped in his birdie putt for an 8-under 63.
That gave him a one-shot lead over Harrison Frazar and William McGirt, who also had to finish his round in the morning.
McGirt had made seven birdies in an eight-hole stretch when play was halted by darkness Thursday night. The birdies disappeared when he got back to Plainfield, and he bogeyed the 17th before hitting just short of the green on 18 for an easy birdie. Frazar shot his 64 Thursday.
Players had only a half-hour before they headed back out to start the second round.
Even in such perfect weather, the future of the Barclays was gloomy. Hurricane Irene is on a path up the Eastern seaboard, with a forecast for rain and wind starting as early as Saturday and into Sunday.
The hope Friday was for everyone to complete 36 holes to make the cut. Tour officials were meeting Friday morning to figure out how to proceed with the rest of the tournament, with a 54-hole event one possibility.
That would not be unusual, but this is not a typical event.
Only 125 players qualified for the FedEx Cup, and The Barclays is the first of four tournaments that lead to a $10 million bonus for the winner. The top 100 players in the standings advance to next week at the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston, and there is a feeling that a full, 72-hole tournament should be played.
And because the Boston event doesn’t start until Friday – it traditionally has a Labor Day finish – one possibility was to finish on Tuesday.
For now, all they can do is play.
Because of the rain – nearly a three-hour delay Thursday, after some 10 inches of rain over the previous two weeks – Plainfield was soft and ripe for good scoring. Only 44 players failed to break par in the first round, and the field average was 69.5.
Kuchar won The Barclays last year at Ridgewood.
“It’s great being defending champion and coming out with a nice start, 8 under, with some good playing,” he said before heading out for his second round. “The conditions were there. I think there are going to be a lot of low scores over the next couple of days.”
Some players were in dire need of such good scores.
Padraig Harrington, who narrowly qualified at No. 124 in the standings, opened with a 65. That counts as his best score of the year. The 65 he shot in the opening round at Abu Dhabi ended with disqualification when it was deemed through high-definition TV that his ball had moved ever so slightly while addressing a putt.
Ernie Els, who was at No. 118, opened with a 68. Els is among five players who have reached the FedEx Cup finale at the Tour Championship every year since this format began in 2007.
Phil Mickelson had a disappointing end to his round of 67, even though he made birdie. The tees are moved up this week on the 18th hole, making it play about 285 yards up the hill with a slight bend to the left. Mickelson hammered a tee shot that settled about 6 feet away, but he missed the putt and settled for a birdie.