CARMEL, Ind. – The Crooked Stick turf was about as soft as caramel. So when golf balls landed, they were caked with mud, the earthy kind, not the stuff politicians sling during election season.
That was a very good thing for BMW Championship players because they were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.
“I’ve never seen that much mud on the ball,” U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson said. “I think I would have shot about 80 if we played it down.”
Instead he shot 8-under 64.
Here’s to the mixture of dirt and water, golf’s version of a tasty cocktail.
Simpson wasn’t alone there on what once was considered a brute of a golf course. He shared the first-round lead Thursday with world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, local favorite Bo Van Pelt and second-year PGA Tour player Graham DeLaet.
Hand on ball. Ground softened by 2 1/2 inches of rain since Saturday. No wind.
“You could really shoot a number out there,” said McIlroy, the FedEx Cup points leader with seven playoff rounds remaining.
And most players did, for the average for the 70-man field was 69.47. Forty guys shot in the 60s and 55 broke par. Early on, Van Pelt figured those numbers were in the works.
“I knew if it seemed like it was playing easy for me, it was probably playing easy for anybody,” said Van Pelt, who grew up about 70 miles away in Richmond.
The foursome up top stands one stroke ahead of two men who have combined to win 17 major championships and 108 Tour titles: Tiger Woods (14 and 74, respectively) and Vijay Singh (three and 34).
Perhaps fitting because the course is a short drive from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, players seemed to draft off of one another as if they were race cars. Simpson played with Van Pelt, McIlroy with Woods.
Monkey see, monkey do, as they say in kindergarten.
“When you watch a guy who’s making putts and playing well, it kind of lets you see that it’s gettable out there,” Simpson said. “I definitely think it helps. It doesn’t always help, but today it did.”
It also helped that Simpson made four putts of 11 feet or longer, including bombs of 31 and 41 feet on his final five holes.
“Those are the days you really enjoy because you don’t expect to make a few putts like that,” he said.
Simpson, who narrowly missed winning the FedEx Cup a year ago, is seeing the growing fruits of his month-long labor on putting alignment.
“Last year, I was lined up too far left; this year, too far right,” he said. “It’s just the way the game of golf is. You over-correct.”
DeLaet, the 30-year-old out of Boise State, also was hot on the greens. He made six putts of 11 feet or longer, including from 20, 24 and 33 feet.
By contrast, McIlroy pieced his round together on the strength of terrific iron play. He not only hit 15 greens in regulation but got the ball close to pins. The only putt he made longer than 6 feet was from 10 for eagle at the 15th. He could have gone even deeper but missed from 9-10 feet at Nos. 16-17.
Afterward, golf’s budding superstar made a big statement.
“My iron play was some of the best it’s been all year – basically in my whole life,” he said.
Van Pelt also hit 15 greens and failed to convert three putts of 7-8 feet on Nos. 13-15. Yet the Tour top-10 machine was beaming after playing in front of a lot of family and friends.
“Never had a chance to play in Indiana (on Tour) before,” he said. “It’s a big deal for me. I want to play well. … (This is) a dream come true for me.”
Van Pelt had a chance to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team, but he finished 14th in points and wasn’t picked by captain Davis Love III. But he said his round wasn’t an I’ll-show-you sort of message.
“No, I’m not a spiteful person,” he said. “To me, the way I was raised, you handle your own business, and I didn’t finish in the top eight (automatic qualifiers). So I didn’t have anybody to blame but myself.”