JERSEY CITY – Troy Merritt, needing a good result to advance in the FedEx Cup playoffs, enjoyed a spectacular start to the PGA Tour’s postseason on Thursday.
The 33-year-old Iowa native shot a course-record-tying, 9-under-par 62 to grab the first-round lead in The Northern Trust at Liberty National Golf Club in Northern New Jersey.
Dustin Johnson is in second place at 8 under, and Kevin Kisner and Spain’s Jon Rahm share third place at 7 under.
Webb Simpson, Tony Finau, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and England’s Justin Rose are tied for fifth at 6 under. Nine players, including Patrick Reed, are at 5 under, tied for ninth.
Merritt, whose only PGA Tour wins came at the 2015 Quicken Loans National and the 2018 Barbasol Championship, began play Thursday in 72nd place in the FedEx Cup standings. Only the top 70 will advance to the second playoff event, next week’s BMW Championship at Medinah Country Club near Chicago.
The top 30 players following the BMW Championship will compete in the Tour Championship, Aug. 22-25 at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
Merritt began on the back nine and started with a par followed by four consecutive birdies. He added birdies at Nos. 17 and No. 1, then three more in a row on Nos. 4-6 in a bogey-free round.
“We half-shanked a 7-iron on 10 to start the day into the bunker and rolled a nice 10-footer in for par,” Merritt said. “The next couple holes, made about a 22- to 24-footer on 11, another 20-footer on 12 and hit a beautiful hybrid in on 13 and a nice wedge in on 14.
“It’s nice to see putts go in early, especially from a little bit of length. It kind of gives you confidence going forward the rest of the day, and they kept going in.”
Merritt added of his second nine, “Those three birdies in a row were nice, but the par save on 7 was big from 110 yards. Kind of kept the run together.”
He said of the pressure of making the top 70, “I didn’t think about it a whole lot. I know good golf will take care of itself. You just try to play the best you can.”
Johnson also produced a bogey-free round, making four birdies in a five-hole span on the back nine before adding four in a row in the front nine.
“I’ve been working pretty hard on my game the last month or so,” said Johnson, who had one missed cut and no finish better than T-20th in his previous five events. “Finally felt like it’s coming around.”
Kisner’s day featured a 108-yard hole-out for an eagle on the par-4 second hole plus five birdies and no bogeys. Rahm had seven birdies — including five in a row from No. 16 to No. 2 — and no bogeys.
“The conditions are soft, and guys are going to tear it up,” Kisner said. “With the greens being that soft and that pure, you can fly it right at the hole and make a lot of putts. So you’ve got to be aggressive and shoot low.”
The start of the round was unusual in that it was played without a gallery. Storms on Wednesday caused damage to the course, and tournament officials needed time Thursday to prepare Liberty National for the crowds.
Reigning Masters champion Tiger Woods struggled to a 4-over 75, leaving him tied for 116th and in danger of missing the cut. Only one player in the field shot worse.
“We had the perfect greens, and had to go out there and shoot something under par and get it going,” Woods said. “Had to be 4-, 5-, 6-under par today. I went the other way with it.”
Top-ranked Brooks Koepka, the reigning PGA Championship winner, is tied for 65th at 1 under. Open Championship titleholder Shane Lowry of Ireland is at 2 under, tied for 51st, and U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland is tied for 100th at 2 over.
–Field Level Media