LAKE FOREST, Ill. – No one – not even Tiger Woods – has successfully defended a FedEx Cup victory.
Behind an 8-under 63 in Thursday’s first round of the BMW Championship, Brandt Snedeker is trying to get himself into position to do exactly that.
Here are 5 Things to Know from Conway Farms near Chicago:
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1. SNEDEKER SIZZLES: Starting the playoffs Snedeker was third in points. A missed cut at The Barclays and a T-47 at the Deutsche Bank Championship dropped Snedeker to ninth.
According to projections, if Snedeker won this week he would move into the top spot in the points list and be guaranteed of a successful defense if he won at the Tour Championship as well.
“I’ve been telling everybody, my main goal was to be in the top five going into the FedEx Cup finale in East Lake and realize how important that is,” Snedeker said. “So that’s my whole goal for this week, and I’ve done a great job putting myself in position to get to next week and controlling my own destiny, and having a chance to retain that Cup that I’ve had for a year and cherished for a year.”
A very streaky player who can go low at the drop of a hat, Snedeker showed the scoring prowess that many lacked on Thursday with seven consecutive birdies.
Starting on the back nine, Snedeker started with three pars before making a 14-footer for birdie on No. 13, and followed that with birdies of 14 feet, 8 feet, 10 feet, 37 feet, 5 feet and 18 feet.
“I made that putt on (No. 1) and really felt like 61 or 60 was very doable, and I had a really good chance of doing it, and just didn’t make any putts coming in after that,” Snedeker said. “I lipped one out on 4, made a good lip‑out on 3 and then I had a chance – I made a putt on 6, and 7, 8 and 9 I didn’t make anything coming in.”
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2. MAKING ‘EM COUNT: Playing in only 12 events on PGA Tour this year, Steve Stricker is still projected to be inside the top 5 in the FedEx Cup standings after an opening 5-under 66 on Thursday.
It’s a position he would not have thought possible when he decided last year to be more of a part-time player on the PGA Tour.
Paired with Snedeker, the duo made 14 birdies and raced up the leaderboard together.
“Watching Snedeker pouring it in from all over the place is always fun,” Stricker said. “It’s fun to watch. And you can’t get caught up in watching him, though, because otherwise you go by the wayside. So I had to pay attention to what I was doing, and it was a good start.”
At the beginning of the playoffs, Stricker was unsure if he would play in either the Presidents Cup or the final playoff event in Atlanta, but now is playing in both.
“It was just the right thing to do,” Stricker said about playing in the Tour Championship. “I made up my mind right away Monday after Deutsche Bank. You know, it’s our Super Bowl marquee event, so it would be – I don’t think it would be right for me not to play.”
Just like Snedeker, Stricker didn’t feel he played his best Thursday, but made key par putts and worked his way around a golf course that few in the field had seen – and was made more difficult by winds that made shot selection tough.
“I didn’t hit it the greatest today, but I think I managed my game well,” Stricker said. “I took advantage of a couple of shots that I hit in there, made the putts, made a couple good up‑and‑downs, one at No. 2 I missed the green to the right, so a couple of par saves really kept the round going, kept the momentum going.”
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3. THAT’LL HURT: Scott Piercy and Lee Westwood played hurt Thursday and it showed, Westwood with a 9-over 80 and Piercy one shot worse with an 81.
For Westwood the answer is simple – he has had a bad back and neck since The Barclays in New York and he struggled to get around 18 holes.
Even when talking about his round, Westwood did it with his head turned in away to display pain.
“I think I’m getting sick,” Westwood said just before he stopped answering questions.
For Piercy, the poor play came from a rib injury that he sustained last week hitting balls back home in Phoenix.
“It hurts to breathe, it hurts to swing,” Piercy said of his day. “I had a 9 and a 6 on the par‑3s. I mean, it hurts. . . .“
Neither player committed to returning for Friday’s second round.
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4. STILL SEARCHING: Rory McIlroy had been making consistent progress since missing the cut at the Open Championship.
A 27th at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a T-8 in his defense at the PGA Championship and a T-19 at The Barclays.
But, a T-47 showing at the Deutsche Bank Championship – maybe the easiest course of the last four events – including a 72 in the final round might be the beginning of a bad pattern after a first-round 78 at the BMW Championship.
“I don’t know, it’s just weird, for shooting what I shot, the shot I hit into 1 – it’s just high numbers again. Taking four to get down, five to get down, just really stupid sort of errors,” McIlroy said.
The first hole was playing 344 yards, but McIlroy made a mess of it. In the green-side bunker left in two shots, it took McIlroy two more shots to reach the green and then a three-putt before he wrote down a triple-bogey seven on the card.
“I’ve worked really hard,” McIlroy said. “I had four really, really good days. I obviously am not expecting results overnight, but yeah, it’s just . . .”
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5. SHORT SHOT: Luke Donald, who calls Conway Farms home, began the tournament with a 1-under 71. . . . Of the field of 70, 32 players were over par. . . . The par-4 13th hole at Conway Farms was the most difficult in the first round, with a stroke average of 4.429. . . . The par-5 eighth hole was the easiest with a stroke average of 4.643.