Van Pelt in Front at The Barclays; McIlroy Shoots 74

Bo Van Pelt fired a 6-under 65 to take the 18-hole lead at The Barclays. The $8 million tournament - the first in the PGA Tour's season-ending, four-event FedEx Cup Playoffs - teed off Thursday at the A.W. Tillinghast-designed Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J.

Van Pelt, who came into The Barclays ranked 104th in FedEx Cup points, carded three birdies on the front nine to make the turn in 3-under 32.

On the home half, the 39-year-old Indianan tacked on another birdie and an eagle at the par-5 17th for a one-stroke lead over fellow Americans Cameron Tringale, Hunter Mahan, Charles Howell III, Ben Martin, Brendon Todd and Jim Furyk, Zimbabwe's Brendon de Jonge, and Englishman Paul Casey.

Van Pelt's only Tour win came in the 2009 U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee and, he's had a below-average year with just one top-10 finish in 23 starts this season. So he was happy with his round. "It was good to get off to a good start like I did. You want to get ahead of this golf course," he said.

"I felt like my game got better as the year went on," add Van Pelt, who finished T-14 in the previous tournament, the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina. "Some good things happened last week, so I felt like that was encouraging and I like this golf course."

Two behind Van Pelt are Japan's Ryo Ishikawa, Scotland's Russell Knox and New Zealand's Danny Lee, while three back are 19 players. In the latter group are two-time Masters' champion Bubba Watson, Erik Compton, Steven Bowditch, Justin Hicks, Daniel Summerhays, Rickie Fowler, John Senden, Hideki Matsuyama, William McGirt, Kevin Chappell, K.J. Choi, Jason Bohn, Seung-Yul Noh, Justin Rose, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Keegan Bradley, Ernie Els and Ricky Barnes.

Defending FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden opened with a 72, and last year's winner of The Barclays, Adam Scott of Australia, carded a 69.

The hottest player on the planet, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, got off to an inauspicious start. The 25-year-old - who rose to No. 1 in the world off three straight victories in the Open Championship, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship - began play on the 10th tee.

McIlroy's front nine was pretty ugly, as he carded a double-bogey on his third hole (the par-4 12th) and added two bogeys to make the turn in 4-over 40. He rebounded on his back half, however, with a pair of birdies and a bogey for an opening 3-over 74.

McIlroy told reporters that his tough round was due, in part, to not practicing much since the PGA two weeks ago in Louisville. "It's more to do with just not putting the adequate time into my game over the past week, for obvious reasons," McIlroy said.

"I think that's really been it. So I'm going to grab a bite to eat here and go to the range this afternoon and work on a few things and really just catch up on some practice that I probably missed out on over the past week."

McIlroy, first on the FedEx Cup points' list, added that other distractions kept him away from the driving range. "It was inevitable, after such a great few weeks - I wanted to enjoy it for a week," McIlroy said. "I came here Monday morning, hit some balls, practiced pretty well. But I guess taking a week off and sort of getting back into it this week, I probably just needed to give myself a bit more time. But I wasn't going to do that. I was enjoying myself."

The Ulsterman - only one title (the Masters) away from a career Grand Slam - told the media that he needs to move on from all the recent successes. "You know, (the run is) behind me; it's gone. I've done it and I want to move on. I want to achieve more things. I want to be successful from here to the end of the season. So it's just all about giving yourself new goals and new targets."

Other scores included an even-par 71 by Phil Mickelson, who's looking for his first victory since the 2013 Open Championship. Three-time winner, Jimmy Walker - second on the points' list - also had a 71. Camilo Villegas, who gained entry into the tournament off his win in last week's Wyndham Championship, shot a 72.

There are 122 players in the field this week.

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