If the first round of the 2016 Barclays is any indication, the first event of the FedEx Cup should be a nail-biter.
Patrick Reed and Martin Laird share the first-round lead after posting five-under scores of 66, but the real story is the tightly packed field at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, New York. Thirty-two golfers are within four strokes of the lead, and 50 are sitting at even par or better.
Reed's five-under should help assuage concerns about his Ryder Cup status. The 26-year-old sat eighth in Ryder Cup points coming into this week, which would have locked him into the United States' team.
"Of course it's on my mind," Reed said, per Alex Myers of Golf Digest. "But really at the end the day, it's just trying to get better and play this tournament. Because if I play well that means those other guys are going to have to play even better to try to catch me."
Starting on the back nine, Reed carded 10 straight pars before he kicked his game into high gear on the front. He recorded his first birdie on the par-four second, rolling in a 10-foot birdie putt. A 312-yard drive and well-placed approach left him 16-plus feet away from eagle on the par-five fourth, and he knocked it down to move to three under.
Reed's strong putting continued with a birdie on No. 4 from just inside 26 feet, and he added a tap-in on the par-five seventh to get to five under. The PGA's putting metrics put him at 3.8 strokes gained on the short grass Thursday.
"If you can survive the back nine, you can tear it up on the front," Reed said, per the Golf Channel.
Laird was likewise strong on the front, carding four of his five birdies on a six-hole stretch from No. 3 to No. 8. The 33-year-old Scot managed to avoid any over-par scores despite hitting an ugly 35.7 percent of his fairways. Strong iron play and a few clutch putts saved his round, which could have been a disaster given his consistent play in the rough.
Fowler, sporting a stellar mustache, spearheads the group of four who are sitting one stroke behind. He did almost the entirety of his damage on a three-hole stretch from Nos. 5 to 7, culminating with an eagle on the par-five seventh. The 27-year-old also seemed to have the Ryder Cup on the back of his mind.
“I don't mind it. I've always liked kind of being put up against the wall in a corner and having that on me," Fowler said, per Brian Wacker of Gold Digest. "Going out, I knew that getting off to a good start today was going to be key. I'm in a position where I'm kind of put in a corner where I need to either earn my way on the team, or at least prove that I should be there.”
Not worried about the Ryder Cup—mainly because he's ineligible—was Australian and world No. 1 Jason Day, who sits two strokes behind at three under. He navigated the difficult back nine at one under and pulled through with three birdies in a five-hole stretch from No. 3 to No. 7. His round was filled with a ton of missed fairways, and he hit only two-thirds of his greens, but clutch putting helped him card just one bogey.
Playing partner Adam Scott is one stroke behind at two under. Scott wasn't quite able to dominate the front like most of the other leaders, playing it at two under, but he was even on the back nine to keep himself in contention.
Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth both have work to do after posting even-par 71s. Both played the back nine two over and the front at two under, with Spieth spraying four bogeys over the course of his round.
"It's up there in the top few toughest courses I've ever played," Spieth said, per Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press. "If they made the greens firm today, it would have been unplayable on a few holes. It was very tough, challenging, but fair today. We just had it really, really tough in the afternoon with those winds so high."
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