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Crooked Numbers at Crooked Stick
The world's best players took advantage of a wet and soft Crooked Stick Golf Club that put lift-clean-and-place rules in effect Thursday, and the scores showed after the first round of the BMW Championship. Four players carded 8-under 64s to share the top spot in the $8 million tournament in Carmel, Ind., the third leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
The quartet includes 2012 U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson, Bo Van Pelt, Canadian Graham DeLaet and reigning PGA champion Rory McIlroy, who also captured last week's Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston and leads the Playoffs. The ultimate points' leader at the conclusion of the Tour Championship in two weeks at Atlanta will earn a $10 million bonus.
Simpson had three birdies on the front nine and added five more - including four in a row on Nos. 14-17. Van Pelt had five birdies on the opening side and three on the back for his 64, while DeLaet posted seven birdies, an eagle on the par-5 ninth (his 18th hole), and a lone bogey.
Simpson was pleased with his outing. "Good, solid golf, no bogeys, which I'm always excited about," said the North Carolinian. "Got the putter going, made a lot of putts on the back nine, and it was good to get up and down for par on the last after not making any bogeys. I didn't want to end with a bogey, so it was a great start and in good position."
McIlroy enjoyed a similarly stellar round with seven birdies, an eagle on the par-5 15th (his sixth hole) and a bogey on the par-3 13th (his fourth). The 23-year-old Northern Irishman played in the same group as Tiger Woods, who shares second after a 65 with another veteran campaigner, Vijay Singh. Woods carded nine birdies and two bogeys on a day when he was hitting it close despite finding only 50 percent of the fairways off the tee; 25 putts helped with his 7-under-par effort.
"It was great," McIlroy said of his round. "You know, with the soft conditions you could really shoot a number out there, and I did. I took advantage of hitting the ball really well, hitting it in the fairway, which I need to do, and also hitting it long, and gave myself a lot of opportunities. I missed a few, but was able to make the most of them. Great start to the tournament." (See below for McIlroy's joint Q&A with Woods.)
Van Pelt, who just missed being a captain's selection for the 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup team by Davis Love III, had a simple plan Thursday. "Stay aggressive," said the native Indianan who now makes his home in Tulsa. "That's just what I kept telling myself as I was making birdies early, just to keep going, because I knew if it seemed like it was playing easy for me, it was probably playing easy for anybody."
DeLaet used a belly putter he recently bought; the Saskatchewan native needed only 26 strokes on the short grass Thursday. "Today I made a lot of putts," said the graduate of Boise State University. "It's kind of funny actually because the one that I am using I actually purchased. I bought it in a golf store in Boise a few weeks back. It still had the price tag on it. Some guys were making fun of me, but it's been working so I'm not taking it off."
Despite his occasionally wayward driving Woods was able to go low anyway. "I was scoring," said the No. 3-ranked player in the world and a three-time winner this season. "I wasn't playing particularly well, but I scored. Rory on the other hand played beautifully today. Every single part of his game was working. It all looked good. I was very fortunate to post the number I shot."
Sharing seventh after 66s were England's Luke Donald and Americans Ryan Palmer and Ryan Moore, while another stroke back are Americans Jimmy Walker, Zach Johnson, Robert Garrigus, Rickie Fowler and Ben Crane, and British golfer Justin Rose.
Although he hed 29 putts Thursday, Johnson was straight off the tee, hitting 93 percent of the fairways and avoiding the thick rough. "Typically, wet conditions are not favorable for me, but this course does have some rough, and it is penal if you hit it in the rough," said the 36-year-old, a two-time winner this season. "I think the greens are good. I like bentgrass greens. That's what I grew up on. I can see the breaks, I can see the lines, and apart from one or two misreads, I had a good putting round."
Thirteen players shot 68, five of whom will play in the Ryder Cup at the end of September at Medinah Country Club near Chicago: Steve Stricker and Dustin Johnson of the U.S., and England's Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood and Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell for the Europeans.
Starting at the 10th tee, McDowell got off to a slow start with only a birdie on his front nine to make the turn in 1-under 35. The 2010 U.S. Open champion then got rolling with three birdies - against a bogey - in his first five holes on the home half. On the par-4 eighth - his 17th hole - the 33-year-old sank a 155-yard, 9-iron for an eagle.
But on McDowell's final hole, the par-5 ninth, he was assessed a two-stroke penalty when he grazed a leaf in a greenside bunker - considered a loose impediment in a hazard. Instead of closing with another birdie he took a bogey.
"A very unusual scenario when I've got a small branch behind my ball with a leaf attached to it, and in the process of addressing my golf ball, I grazed the top of the leaf, and I'm deemed to have touched a loose impediment in a hazard, which is a two shot penalty," McDowell explained later. "Despite the fact that nothing has moved, the lie hasn't improved, I just didn't give the branch enough respect. I've never seen that scenario before."
McDowell added: "Getting into the bunker, my caddie said to me, 'You know you can't touch that branch, right?' I thought he meant of course I can't remove that branch. I just didn't give it enough respect, and the second that I grazed it, we both knew perhaps we might be in trouble. It was just kind of one of those moments where I've never seen that scenario before. It's a tough lesson."
Other scores included 69s by, among others, U.S. Ryder Cuppers Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker, along with European team member Sergio Garcia. Nick Watney, who won the Playoffs first event, The Barclays and is second to McIlroy in points, posted a 70.
The weather forecast for Friday and Saturday calls for thunderstorms, perhaps severe in nature. Because of that threat officials moved Friday's first tee time up to 8:00 a.m., with the final group going off at 10:01. The marquee pairing of McIlroy, Woods and Watney will start at 9:39.
For all the scores, visit http://www.pgatour.com/r/leaderboard/.
After signing their scorecards, McIlroy and Woods sat down together with reporters and discussed their day and so-called "rivalry." Here's what the two stars had to say.
Q. You guys put on an incredible display of golf. Can you talk about that a little bit?
TIGER WOODS: I was scoring. I wasn't playing particularly well, but I scored. Rory on the other hand played beautifully today. Every single part of his game was working. It all looked good. I was very fortunate to post the number I shot.
Q. We're going to start with Tiger's tee shot on the 13th. What did you see here?
TIGER WOODS: Well, it's just a pull 8 iron, and held it up against the wind a little bit and it landed three, four feet.
Q. Rory, let's go to your eagle at the 15th hole.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I hit a really good drive up there, left myself a perfect number for a 6 iron and hit it to there and made the putt. It was nice to come back after a bogey on 13 and come back with a birdie and an eagle after that.
Q. Tiger, here you are at the 16th.
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, this was just a pulled pitching wedge. I had 152 to the hole and took dead aim right at it.
Q. Now we go to the other side of the golf course at the 1st.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, 1st was a good yardage for me. It was 125, just smoothed a little wedge in there, and it was nice to get that birdie today.
Q. Tiger now, at the second?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, this was just a pull sand wedge and had a backboard behind it and used the backboard to bring it back down the hill.
Q. Tiger, the third at the 5th, this was beautifully done.
TIGER WOODS: This was nasty. This wasn't very good, and to be honest with you I was just trying to get the ball on the green, and it just so happened to be in a range where I could make a putt, and I happened to make it.
Q. Rory, your second at the eighth?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, I was actually the exact same yardage I was at the first, a little wedge in there and stuck it tight again and nice to get another birdie.
Q. How difficult was this third shot at nine?
RORY McILROY: It was pretty difficult. I landed it right up on top there and let it creep down, and hit it quite well, and nice to get it within three or four feet and was able to make that to obviously finish off the round the way I wanted.
Q. Tiger, this fourth one at the ninth?
TIGER WOODS: It was just a little 9 iron, put the ball on the green and it kind of trickled on down. I hit a couple putts there in the practice round and happened to hit that last putt and saw it really didn't break that much. For some reason I just happened to have it, and it went in.
Q. A lot is made of a rivalry in an individual sport versus a team sport. You two guys playing head to head week in and week out, but you also have a friendly nature about yourselves on the golf course. How do you balance that type of camaraderie versus competitiveness?
RORY McILROY: We just want to go out there and try and play the best we can, and that's my mindset. Of course every week you might beat Tiger you're going to be at the top of the leaderboard, but I'm not going out there with the intention of beating Tiger, I'm just there to try and shoot the best number possible.
Q. How much do you enjoy playing with this guy?
TIGER WOODS: It's a lot of fun. This is the next generation of guys coming out. He hits it great, putts it great, and on top of that, he's just a really nice kid. The game of golf is in great hands with him, and he's here to stay.
Q. I really loved the pace on your putts out there today. They were hitting the back of the hole. Talk about that.
TIGER WOODS: I putted well today. I didn't swing the club well. I didn't feel like I had the club in the right spot. I warmed up terribly this morning. I just didn't quite have it, but I scored well. The name of the game is scoring. I had a couple sweet up and downs there today and a nice little chip in at the last.
Q. It seemed like you had the irons working the way you wanted them to.
TIGER WOODS: You know, it was all right. The irons, I happened to hit - some were close, but they didn't feel - you know how it is when you're swinging that way. You're kind of upright and blah blah blah, but I need to do some work.
Q. It's a short week, obviously, a finish on Monday, straight over here, learn a new golf course, all of that. Did playing with Rory, playing in this atmosphere help you get motivated this morning?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I wouldn't say that. I think that we all knew that with ball in hand, soft conditions, we had to go. We just couldn't afford to have a bad start today. I birdied the first two right out of the gate, which was nice, and from then on, I scored well. I got some birdies going, made some putts, but it was - it was one of those days, you just have to go. I think there's over 50 guys at even par or better. Pete is not liking it very much.
TIGER WOODS: Well, I struggled well today. Probably the best way to describe it. I didn't hit the ball particularly well, and I need to do some work this afternoon on the range. I happened to hit - I gutted out a round and posted a round that could have easily been 70, 71, 72, and I turned it into a really low round.
Q. I know you guys say you're playing against the golf course, but when you're seeing Rory and he's playing well, did it help you to gut out a better number?
TIGER WOODS: No, not at all because it's one of those days where we have ball in hand, soft conditions, and we knew we had to go today. You couldn't afford to get off to a slow start. Too many guys are going to go low in these conditions. These are the top 70 guys. They're all playing well this year, so we had to go. I birdied the first two right out of the gate, which is nice, and made a few more after that. But still, you look up on that board, it's got over 50 guys at even par or better, and it's only a 70 man field. It's pretty impressive.
Q. Obviously it's not like you really need the motivation, but does it feel good that Rory has come along? Has it been good for you to have a young guy that's won a couple majors, maybe just something else for you to give you a boost?
TIGER WOODS: Well, it's nice to be part of that conversation. As Jack said numerous times, it was nice to be part of the cross-generational conversations we had with Gary and Arnold really, a little bit of Hogan maybe. He was kind of on his way out, but he was part of the Watson and Weiskopf and Trevino and all those guys. It was nice to be a part of - be in it for over 20 years. This is my 17th year out here. The guys I battled head to head are early 40s if not late 40s, like Vijay is late 40s. This is the next generation of guys.
Q. Does he seem like he's that much younger than you? He's 13 years younger.
TIGER WOODS: No, he's very mature. He understands and he handles it well, and he's been a pro for a while. It's not like he just came out of college and was a pro for a year at his age, what, 22, 23. He's been out here a while. He's played all around the world, and that's really helped. That helps in your development as a player but also as a person playing in multiple countries.
Q. What is it that you enjoy about playing with him? It seems like you guys have a real good give and take on the golf course.
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, he's a nice kid, he really is. It's fun to play with him, and he's just an amazing talent. You watch him swing the club and watch him putt and play, he doesn't have a lot of weaknesses. You can see that in the next decade or so as he really matures and understands some of the nuances of the game, he's only going to get better, and that's kind of fun to see.
Q. Is there anything you can learn from Rory?
TIGER WOODS: Anything I can learn from Rory? I wish I could hit it as far as he does.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.