Northern Trust 2019: Troy Merritt Leads Dustin Johnson by 1 Stroke After Round 1

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistAugust 8, 2019

Troy Merritt waits to putt on 18th Green during the final round in the Barracuda Championship golf tournament at Montreux Golf & Country Club in Reno, Nev., Sunday, July 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Lance Iversen)
Lance Iversen/Associated Press

Scores went low in the first round of the 2019 Northern Trust event and none lower than Troy Merritt's.

The 33-year-old fired off a nine-under 62 in Thursday's opening round, putting him one stroke ahead of Dustin Johnson at the year's first FedEx Cup event. Kevin Kisner and Jon Rahm are two strokes back at seven under, while Tony Finau, Webb Simpson, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose are each tied in fifth place after shooting 65. 

Merritt finished with one of the finest putting rounds of his career, with the PGA's strokes gained metric giving him 4.394 strokes on the greens. Four of his birdies came from outside 10 feet, including a 22-footer on No. 11. He opened the round with four birdies in his first six holes and began the back nine with a stretch of birdies from Nos. 11-14.

Merritt is looking for his third win on the PGA Tour. He previously took home the 2018 Barbasol Championship and the 2015 Quicken Loans National. 

Johnson built his round on the back of an excellent driving day, hitting 85.7 percent of his fairways to put himself in a good position on nearly every hole. He converted four straight birdie putts inside 10 feet on Nos. 5-8 and added four more birdies on the back nine in a bogey-less round. All but one of his red numbers came on shorter putts.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Tiger Woods clearly looks like a golfer who is ready for his season to be over. Eighty golfers went under par under near-ideal course conditions. Woods finished at four over, ahead of just two golfers who finished their round.  Struggling with back stiffness that cropped up early in the week, Tiger could not find his consistency with the putter and dropped 2.5 strokes on the short surface.

He finished with five bogeys, three birdies and a double bogey.

"He's Tiger Woods. He doesn't need to prove anything to anyone," McIlroy told reporters coming into the week. "He doesn't need to prove anything else to himself. He can put the clubs away tomorrow and live happily ever after, I guess. But he wants to compete. He's a competitor. I think it shows a lot that he still turns up to some events and wants to play."

McIlroy made his way through his opening round nearly unscathed, save for a bogey on No. 10. He atoned for that mistake by knocking down a 16-foot eagle putt on the par-five 13th, then added another birdie on No. 16 after driving the green and hitting an eagle putt within a one-foot tap in.

World No. 1 Brooks Koepka will have his work cut out after scuffling his way to a one-under 70, putting him in a tie for 65th. His round was undone by dreadful work on the greens; he hit all but one of his fairways and 15 of his 18 greens in regulation before falling short on the short surface.

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