NORTON, Mass. — Tiger Woods shot 7-under 64 in the morning wave of the first round of the Deutsche Bank Championship and was on the top of the leaderboard until another Sean Foley disciple, Korean Seung-Yul Noh, fired 62 to take his first lead in a PGA Tour event.
Noh has been mistaken for Kevin Na at times, but on Friday he was in a class of his own. He torched the TPC Boston layout with nine birdies and had no blemishes on a card that was Noh’s best round in 38 PGA Tour starts.
What worked so well on Friday?
“I think swing is best today,” said Noh, who began working with Foley in May. “I think pretty good golf swing today.”
Noh credited Foley with helping him create a more consistent swing. The 21-year-old looks at photos with Foley and makes adjustments from there. His “new” swing has produced a T-7 at FedEx St. Jude, a T-4 at AT&T National, seven top-25 finishes and no missed cuts in 13 events.
“He wants to hit a little draw like Hunter (Mahan), so their patterns would be very similar,” Foley said of Noh’s swing. “If I need to get some things through to him, I’ll email him because he reads language no problem. He’s a lovely kid, nice kid. He’s got a great demeanor for golf. Very calm.”
“He’s one of those kids if Foley says ‘Do this 1,000 times,’ he’s going to go home and do it 1,000 times,” Mahan said of Noh’s dedication and thirst for knowledge. “He’s a good student and he’s a good guy, so I’m happy that he’s playing well.”
Currently ranked 100th in the world, Noh’s best start on the PGA Tour in 2012 was a 65 at the Humana Challenge. He missed the cut there (where the cut is made after three rounds). If he’s going to contend this week, he needs to improve his performances in the middle rounds. Noh is ranked 72nd in second round scoring average and 75th in third round scoring average.
“Golf is playing 72 holes,” Noh said. “So plenty of holes left.”
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RYDER RACE: If you accept conventional thinking, there are seven leading candidates for the four captain’s picks that will be named Tuesday morning to round out the U.S. squad. If captain Davis Love was watching from Sea Island, Ga., and we believe he was, here’s the numbers he was digesting:
• Dustin Johnson (67): A bogey-free effort till he somehow managed to chop up the par-5 seventh, his 16th hole. Still, he’s in position to make a strong showing for a last-minute push.
• Hunter Mahan (68): Unfortunately, he couldn’t birdie the soft, par-5 18th, but still, it was a positive step, given that he’s missed the cut in each of his last two starts.
• Steve Stricker (69): Ho-hum, another solid round (11 fairways, 14 greens), which is sort of why the veteran is seen as a lock.
• Jim Furyk (69): How about ditto, except that Furyk hit 13 fairways and 12 greens. Rock-solid, as usual, and it’s hard to see Love not picking him.
• Brandt Snedker (69): Had it been done anywhere else in the lineup, it may have been a round to notice, but when your playing competitor is Tiger Woods and he shoots 64, well . . . not many took note. But we suspect Love might have.
• Rickie Fowler (71): The score doesn’t knock you over, given the field average of 69.918, but he was 3 over after two holes and fought back.
• Nick Watney (72): Best guess is, he needs to win or have a very strong showing to keep his momentum going after last week’s win at The Barclays. But he’s surely the longest of long shots now.
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FACES IN THE CROWD: Keegan Bradley might have had local hockey favorite Shawn Thornton of the Boston Bruins following along in his gallery, but coming along in the next pairing, Rory McIlroy trumped him. McIlroy’s girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki, was in attendance.
“It’s great. Obviously I’d still love her to be in New York playing (in the U.S. Open), but it’s great to have her here.”
McIlroy had been in attendance this past Tuesday when Wozniacki got upended in the first round, but they had a better result to cheer on here in the Deutsche Bank Championship. That’s because McIlroy birdied the par-5 18th to shoot 6-under 65.
“It seems like every time she comes along, I play well,” he said.
Not that Wozniacki doesn’t provide more than a pretty smile. She shows her competitive fire, too, McIlroy said, laughing.
“She was even giving J.P. (Fitzgerald, his caddie) a little bit of grief,” McIlroy said. “I airmailed the green at the first. We came off and she went, ‘Nice club, J.P.’ “
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FINISHING ACT: After one day, it’s hard to make much noise about the changes to the green at the par-5 18th. Reduced in size and raised a few feet, it didn’t seem to bother the field. As it usually does, the hole ranked easiest, with a field average of 4.561. Last year in Round 1, the field average was 4.525.
Breaking down the performances, there’s little difference. There were three eagles and 48 birdies in Round 1 a year ago, four eagles and 43 birdies on Friday.
Chris Kirk, Charley Hoffman, Bud Cauley and Jonas Blixt made the eagles.
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LEFTY’S CLAW: Phil Mickelson posted a round of 3-under 68, significant in the fact that it was his first bogey-free round since he shot 64 in the final round of the AT&T at Pebble Beach in early February. He continued to putt with the claw grip, which he committed to a week earlier in the opening round at Barclays, and needed only 27 putts.
Using the claw at Barclays, Mickelson saw a big improvement in his lag putting. In his first round with the claw, he had eight approaches in the range of 29-40 feet; he made two of the putts and none of the other six finished more than 16 inches from the hole.
He missed a couple of short ones on Friday at TPC Boston (including a 5-footer at 18), but that was caused by misreads, not poor putts. In addition, he has tinkered with more than his grip. On TPC Boston’s quick greens, he added 20 grams of weight to head of his putter (from 20 to 40 grams), making it “a ton heavier.”
Said Mickelson, “That way, the sensitivity is there and the head stays very stable. With a light putter, it (the claw) would be difficult to do.”
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SHORT SHOTS: Spencer Levin, who withdrew from the Barclays last week following the sudden death of his stepbrother, Brett Wiklund, shot 80 on Friday and withdrew. He will not be among the top 70 advancing to Crooked Stick next week. . . . Jonas Blixt, who had to make a 5-foot putt on the 72nd green at Barclays just to advance to TPC Boston, shot 67 and is tied for 10th. . . . Talk about rough starts: Ben Crane tripled his first hole (No. 10) and shot 74. Defending champion Webb Simpson opened with 69, and Barclays champion Nick Watney shot 72. . . . Tiger Woods’ six birdies in a row tied his second-best under-par streak on Tour. At the 2005 Masters, he played seven holes in 7 under. . . . Steve Stricker shot 69, which is 48th round in the 60s in the history of the FedEx playoffs. That’s the most of any player. Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk (38) are knotted in second.
– Jim McCabe, Alex Miceli, Jeff Babineau