NORTON, Mass. – There was a 65 in the morning, a 63 in the afternoon, and plenty of scores of a higher variety in between. The first round of the Deutsche Bank Championship – tournament No. 2 in your FedEx Cup series – was played out in vintage late-summer New England weather and the storylines were plentiful.
Here are five things that happened on a day ripe for scoring:
1. HE’S AMONG FRIENDS: He’s the “hometown” New England kid here outside Boston, he’s trying to stay inside the top 30 in the FedEx Cup points race in order to get to East Lake for the Tour Championship in two weeks, and he’s a man in the mix to make Tom Watson’s Ryder Cup team that will travel to Scotland next month.
Other than that, Keegan Bradley doesn’t have a whole lot going on at this week’s Deutsche Bank Championship. Oh, and now he’s near the top of the leaderboard at TPC Boston after shooting 6-under 65, trailing only leader Ryan Palmer. So, is Bradley thinking about that Ryder Cup situation much?
“Every second,” said Bradley, who went 3-0 alongside Phil Mickelson at Medinah two years ago, but failed to earn his point in singles as Europe came back to win. “When I’m sleeping, I’m dreaming about it. When I wake up, I’m thinking about it. When I’m on the course, I’m thinking about it. But I’ve just made the decision that it’s going to come up and I’m not going to try to block it out.
“I’m just going to try to embrace it and be aware of those thoughts. The more I try not to think about it the more it comes in. I’m just embracing it.”
Friday he drove it long and straight (13 fairways), made six birdies, no bogeys, and needed only 25 putts.
It’s already been a busy week for Bradley. He ran his own charity event in Vermont to start the week, and being a son of New England, he always needs to gather up stacks of tickets. He’s played here three times and has yet to crack the top 10. But he says he’s learning.
“I think the first couple of years I had trouble with it,” he said. “But I think now I’ve really embraced it and it’s a lot more fun. I’m a little stressed. But I’m learning how to deal with it. Hearing the cheers today was so fun.”
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2. PUTTING CLINIC: Perhaps the least surprising thing of the day was when Ryan Palmer rolled in an 18-footer for birdie on his final hole, the par-4 ninth. After all, eight of his other birdie tries had fallen, too. Perhaps the only surprise was when Palmer missed.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had 21 putts in one round,” Palmer said after that sizzling putting display powered him to an 8-under 63 and two-stroke lead over Bradley.
Not that Palmer in the lead should be a shock. He led after the first round of the recent PGA Championship, was in a four-way playoff at the Honda Classic in March, and he’s been in the top five four times this season. “It’s been building all year. I keep telling myself something is going to happen,” said the 11-year veteran with three victories.
Oh, and there’s a little history right here at TPC Boston, because in 2004, Palmer opened with a 65 to share the lead with a guy named Tiger Woods.
Palmer’s regular caddie, James Edmondson, never made the trip to the Deutsche Bank, choosing to stay at home in Dallas to be with his good friend, Lance Bennett, whose wife, Angela, died Wednesday. Veteran caddie Brett Waldman, a longtime friend of Palmer’s had the bag and handled the assignment flawlessly.
“He kept me relaxed,” Palmer said.
And kept handing him the putter, too.
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3. PHIL AND THE RYDER HOPEFULS: The good news is, Phil Mickelson burned it up at the PGA Championship to qualify for his 10th straight team. Otherwise, one can only imagine the intensity of the “Would you pick him?” talk. That’s because one week after missing the cut at The Barclays, Mickelson stumbled out of the gates at TPC Boston. In his first seven holes, Lefty hit two balls into hazards, made a triple, a double, and two bogeys and was 5 over. Though he recovered to shoot 3-over 74, Mickelson has to be thankful he’s already got a spot on the team.
Given that it was short week, that Mickelson only got here in time for Thursday’s pro-am, “I always said it would be feast or famine,” Mickelson said. With bogeys on six holes and birdies on six others and pars on the other six, it surely was.
“I was hoping it was Stableford. If it was Stableford, I’d be right in it.”
As for those who are hoping to get the nod from captain Tom Watson on Tuesday evening in New York, here are six lead candidates for the three spots, rated in order of who we think are the favorites:
• Bradley: Bogey-free, 6-under 65. Certainly off to a start that validates his position as the leading contender.
• Hunter Mahan: Opened with a 2-over 73, in stark contrast to his blistering 65 to win The Barclays a week ago. Still, hard to say he hurt his chances.
• Brandt Snedeker: Never got anything going, with just one birdie in his round of 72. Watson favors him, but he needs to step it up.
• Ryan Moore: Considered a front-runner back in mid-July, he was T-40 at the PGA, missed the cut at The Barclays, and with an opening 72 he, too, needs more of a statement.
• Webb Simpson: Came home in 31, shot 66, and certainly put himself in position to make Watson’s task very interesting. Probably wasn’t one of the three captain’s picks before the week began, but played well at Wyndham two weeks ago, and what if he were to win?
• Kevin Na: Pedestrian effort, three sloppy bogeys and a double at No. 12 to shoot 73. If he were a long shot to start the week, his odds grew even longer.
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4. ON A MISSION: Ian Poulter, a Ryder Cup stalwart who is on the outside looking in on this year’s European team, said he is finished talking about his situation and will concentrate on being “ruthless” this week, focused on showing captain Paul McGinley some good form. He got off to a decent start on Friday, shooting 4-under 67.
“I’m not thinking anything else right now, apart from playing golf this week,” he said. “I’ve got to motivate myself to make sure I play well this week, to play next week, to play the week after. And I’m not thinking about Ryder Cup. It’s in a few weeks’ time. Obviously it’s on everyone’s radar, because everyone wants to play in it. And I want to play in it as well. So I’ll have to wait and see. We’ll have to wait and see.”
One unexpected highlight in Poulter’s round was the 65-footer he holed for birdie at the 218-yard eighth hole. He has a new “old” putter in the bag this week, putting in an Odyssey White Damascus #1 blade that he originally had put into play last summer at the Open Championship.
“Yeah, I haven’t holed one quite that long for some time,” he said.
Poulter has not had much success at TPC Boston through the years. He missed the cut four of the first five times he teed it up here, and only last year broke through with his first top 10 (ninth) in seven starts. He didn’t arrive in Massachusetts until late Thursday, having skipped the pro-am.
“This golf course has been frustrating one for me through the years,” he said, “so I decided to stay away and just keep like a short week, and kind of do my job and leave.”
So far, so good.
Luke Donald, another European hoping to get one of McGinley’s three picks, shot 69. He said McGinley texted him and told him to “have fun” this week.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Carl Pettersson celebrated his 37th birthday by shooting 4-under 67. … Brendon de Jonge’s Deutsche Bank Championship was pretty much over before he started. He began his round off 10 going triple bogey-triple bogey, then followed with a bogey at 12. He played his next 15 holes in 1 under (even making an eagle at 18, his ninth hole) to shoot 76. … Matt Jones pitched in from 25 feet to make the only eagle of the day at the short, par-4 fourth. … Billy Horschel made the only eagle at the par-5 seventh. … Bubba Watson’s lackluster played continued. He shot 72, and in his last 15 rounds is 4 over with just three sub-70 scores. … Adam Scott bogeyed three of his first five holes, hit just eight greens, and shot 73. … Jim Furyk shot 72, just the second time in his last 22 rounds that he’s failed to shoot 71 or better. … Pat Perez did not make a birdie in his round of 77. … Harris English’s woes continued. He shot 75 and is 15 over for his last six rounds.