Plenty of crooked numbers in opening round at Crooked Stick

September 06, 2012
Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM

CARMEL, Ind. -- Give soft conditions and preferred lies to the best golfers on the PGA TOUR and ... well, you pretty much can guess the outcome. In fact, no need to even guess. Just look at the scores in Thursday's first round of the BMW Championship.


Of the 70 players in the field, 60 shot even par or better. Four players -- Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson, Bo Van Pelt and Graham DeLaet -- emerged with a share of the lead at 8-under 64. Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh, who have combined to win three FedExCup titles, were next in line at 65.

Now consider this: The last time Crooked Stick hosted a PGA TOUR event, the 1991 PGA Championship, no player shot lower than 67 in any of the four rounds. On Thursday, nine players bettered that score.

Moist ground from recent rains -- 2 inches over the weekend, another quarter of an inch on Wednesday -- and lift, clean and place rules in effect left Pete Dye's course vulnerable.

"Guys are going to take advantage of that," DeLaet said.

"Everybody was shooting lights out," added Singh.

Even the guys who didn't think they played all that great managed to walk off the course feeling good about their scorecard. Woods said he had a terrible warm-up on Thursday morning and didn't swing the club well the entire round. Yet he still managed nine birdies, including a chip-in on his final hole.

"I think that we all knew that with ball in hand, soft conditions, we had to go," Woods said. "... 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."

It was just the 11th round on TOUR this year that lift, clean and place was allowed. Simpson, the reigning U.S. Open champion, said scores would have skyrocketed without preferred lies.

"I think I would have shot about 80 if we played it down," he said. "I've never seen that much mud on the ball. The greens held up well; they're rolling great, and we're probably going to have to play it up again tomorrow."

Van Pelt, an Indiana native, was in the same group as Simpson. Between the two of them, they posted 16 birdies without a single bogey on their scorecards.

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"I think the rules staff made the right decision," Van Pelt said. "I know a few years ago, we played Sunday at 84 Lumber on a day like this and balls are going all over the place. I don't think that's fun for anybody to watch.

"To me, I think the people of Indiana are having fun watching guys play well and making birdies, so I think they made the right call."

The cumulative scoring average on Thursday was 69.471. That's 2.529 strokes under par. This year, only two opening rounds have produced lower averages in relation to par -- the PGA West Nicklaus Course at 3.125 and Torrey Pines North at 2.756.

"With the soft conditions, you could really shoot a number out there," McIlroy said. "And I did."

Indeed. Of the players on the front page of the leaderboard, McIlroy's name looms largest, if only because he's won two of his past three starts, including Monday's Labor Day finish at the Deutsche Bank Championship and last month's PGA Championship.

He entered this week ranked No. 1 in FedExCup points and doesn't appear to be satisfied that his place in the top five -- which means he'll control his own destiny at the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola -- already is secured.

"I think it's a huge advantage going into East Lake with the No. 1 spot," he said. "... It's still an important week to try and stay on top and put myself in the best possible position going into the TOUR Championship."

Woods played with McIlroy for the third time in these FedExCup Playoffs and was impressed by what he saw, saying the world No. 1 "played beautifully."

"Every single part of his game was working," Woods added.

On a day in which most players went low, McIlroy was among the lowest. At the end of the week, that may prove to be Thursday's most pivotal development.