5 Things: Love among leaders in Memphis
It was a good day to be in your 40s Thursday at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
On a day when low scores were held in check, a handful of 40-somethings turned in impressive first-round performances at TPC Southwind.
Davis Love III, 49, shot 4-under 66 to grab a share of the lead. He is joined by 42-year-old Stuart Appleby and 47-year-old Glen Day, as well as Nathan Green, who is nearly 40 at 38 years old, Harris English and Martin Flores.
David Toms, 46, is part of a large group one shot back at 3 under that also includes defending champion Dustin Johnson.
Here are 5 Things you need to know from Thursday’s first-round action in Memphis, Tenn.:
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1. SUMMER LOVIN’: Davis Love III is leading a PGA Tour event, something he hasn’t done since the third round of last year’s McGladrey Classic, and rarely done in the past few years.
But while it’s been some time since Love last led, it’s been even longer since he’s won one. His last official win came at the 2008 Children’s Miracle Network Classic.
Love made seven birdies and three bogeys en route to his 4-under 66 to grab a share of the lead entering Friday’s second round.
A now-healthy Love is playing in his fourth event since he had a two-level disk fusion in February shortly after withdrawing from the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He returned to action at the Players Championship and finished T-48. He then missed the cut at the Crowne Plaza Invitational before finishing T-29 at the Memorial.
A 20-time winner on Tour, Love nearly ended his winless streak at last year’s FedEx St. Jude Classic before finishing T-3.
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2. IT’S NOT EASY BEING GREEN: Forgive Nathan Green if he got a little nervous Thursday.
Green made a short birdie at the par-5 16th to move into the solo lead and then held on for a 4-under 66 after a pair of up-and-downs to close his bogey-free opening round.
“I was starting to get nervous seeing my name on the board,” Green said.
It’s been a while since Green last had a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour. He did flirt with one at the HP Byron Nelson Championship three weeks ago, but a final-round 76 ended those hopes as he finished T-33.
The last top-10 finish for Green on Tour came at last year’s RBC Canadian Open. And he’s had just one other top-10 showing in the past four years.
“Last few years my game has gone a little bit south,” said Green, who lost his full status on the PGA Tour last season. “The game is changing a little bit. I was always a really good chipper and putter, and I lost that part of my game almost totally. Am sort of rebuilding that.”
Green is making his fifth PGA Tour start of the season this week and has earned just $68,455. He’s also made seven starts on the Web.com Tour, but has missed four cuts and has a season-best finish of T-15, which came at the Mexico Championship. He’s 107th on the Web.com Tour money list.
“Lot of times in the last few years if it doesn't go well this week, I've got next week,” Green said. “At the moment that's not the case. I've got to take advantage of every opportunity. . . . I still need to work on my game, but it gets harder and harder to do that when you're not getting any results.”
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3. PHIL NOT SO THRILLED WITH SHORT GAME: Phil Mickelson’s short game was uncharacteristically off Thursday in Memphis.
Mickelson shot 1-over 71 in his first start since missing the cut at the Players Championship and is five shots off the lead heading into Friday’s second round.
“My short game was not good today,” Mickelson said. “I made a mistake in some of my shot selection trying to hit some of the shots.”
After sticking his approach at the par-4 10th to about 5 feet and making birdie on his opening hole, Mickelson looked to be in a rhythm early. He hit his first five greens, too. But he bogeyed the par-4 15th, doubled the par-5 16th and bogeyed the par-4 17th to drop from 1 under to 3 over.
At No. 15, a poor pitch with his third shot went some 30 feet past the hole. He found two greenside bunkers at No. 16, the first time with his second shot and the second time with his fourth shot from the other side of the green. Then at No. 17, he made bogey after coming up short of the green and failing to get up-and-down for par.
He did make three consecutive birdies to start his front nine, but it’s this up-and-down kind of play that Mickelson has to be trying to iron out before next week’s visit to Merion.
“I really feel like I'm striking the ball well,” Mickelson said. “The score obviously isn't very good. . . . This is the first competitive round in a little while and I'm looking forward to (Friday's) round because I know that ball striking-wise, it's about as good as I've been striking it and I feel like there's a good round in me.”
In two previous starts in this event, Mickelson hasn’t had much success. But in both of those appearances he’s gone on to post a top-10 at the U.S. Open the following week. He placed 55th at the 2009 FedEx St. Jude Classic before finishing runner-up at the U.S. Open. And in 2001, he missed the cut in Memphis before finishing T-7 the next week.
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4. THE CHAMP IS HERE: Dustin Johnson began his title defense Thursday and for six holes it looked like Johnson would distance himself from the field early at TPC Southwind.
Instead, he’s part of a crowded top of the leaderboard.
Johnson birdied the par-4 first hole before an eagle at the par-5 third hole. He then added birdies at Nos. 5-6 to grab a one-shot lead at 5 under.
He kept the lead until the par-4 ninth, where he recorded his first bogey of the day. Two more bogeys, at Nos. 12 and 14, then dropped him back to 2 under. A birdie at the par-5 16th gave Johnson a shot back, but he would finish with a 3-under 67, one shot out of the lead.
Johnson has four top-15s in 12 PGA Tour starts this season, including a win at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions. But he’s played just twice since a T-13 showing at the Masters, withdrawing from the Players due to a back injury and missing the cut at the Memorial.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: David Toms, who won this event in 2003 and ’04, carded an opening-round 3-under 67. . . . Nicholas Thompson, who has missed six straight PGA Tour cuts entering this week, shot 67. It’s his third round in the 60s in his last 37 Tour rounds. . . . After finding out earlier this week that he got into the U.S. Open, Scott Stallings turned in a 67. Stallings enters this week coming off two straight T-4 finishes, too.
Information from the PGA Tour was used in this report.