NORTON, Mass. — Harris English made the difficult look easy Thursday in The Northern Trust, just like he has done all year to even reach this position in the PGA Tour's postseason
Facing the tough stretch at TPC Boston in the middle of his round, the Baylor School graduate hit a 5-iron on the 11th and 12th holes, with both shots leaving the ball about eight feet from the cup for birdies. He followed with two long birdie putts to run his streak to four and finished at 7-under 64.
By the end of the opening round, English shared the lead with former University of Georgia teammate Russell Henley — who finished with a tap-in eagle — Kevin Streelman and Australia's Cameron Davis.
Good starts were important to so many in these FedEx Cup playoffs, which are as much about advancing as avoiding elimination. The top 70 in the 122-man playoffs (three players have withdrawn) after this weekend move on to next week for another $9.5 million event. The goal then is to reach the top 30 for the Tour Championship and its $15 million prize to the winner at Atlanta's East Lake Golf Club.
Of the top 11 players who were separated by one shot after the first round, five of them began the week outside the top 70, with Bubba Watson on the bubble at No. 66. English doesn't face that dilemma at the moment.
English doesn't face that dilemma at the moment. His good start happened 11 months ago after he began the season for the first time in his career without a full PGA Tour card. That was due to a slump that had him chasing after a swing that wasn't his own, leading to six lean years without winning.
He parlayed conditional status into five top-10 results before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down golf for three months, and then he resumed his steady play to reach No. 27 in the FedEx Cup points standings when the playoffs began.
Now he's more interested in where he could be going instead of how far he has come.
"I'm not satisfied with just barely being inside the Tour Championship," he said. "I want to make a move up the ranks and have a chance at lifting the FedEx Cup, which we all think about the whole year. ... It's been a lot of work. But I feel like I'm ready for it to jump up and have a chance at winning some tournaments."
Streelman made two early birdies and then holed out from 154 yards for eagle on the 15th hole. He had one of nine birdies on the 213-yard eighth hole to tie for the lead. Davis was at 8 under until a bogey on No. 8, his penultimate hole. He is at No. 102 in the FedEx Cup.
Among those at 65 were Charley Hoffman, Louis Oosthuizen and Scott Piercy, all well outside the top 70. Sebastian Munoz began his round with seven straight birdies to quickly tie for the lead, only to make double bogey on No. 9 and record only one birdie the rest of the way.
"Not really a disappointment," Munoz said. "It's golf."
Oosthuizen is No. 99 in the FedEx Cup, while Hoffman is at No. 111 and Piercy at No. 119. Only the top 70 advance to next week at the BMW Championship, and they all likely need something around 15th place or better to move on.
Oosthuizen and his sweet swing barely made it to East Lake last year. Now he has work to do, and he brought a different style of playing knowing that.
"I need a good week to get to next week, and then I need an even better week to get to Atlanta," he said. "It's a little more attack in the game, a little bit more aggressive. I think by Sunday you'll know exactly in what position you are, and it might be a case of going at pins that you might not normally do. But up until Sunday, I think I'm just going to play the normal game see where I'm at when I get there."
Justin Thomas, the No. 1 seed, opened with a 68. Collin Morikawa, in his first start since winning the PGA Championship this month, twice made bogey on par 5s and had a 71, leaving him outside the cut line — rare territory for him — going into Friday.
Tiger Woods opened with a 68 with five birdies over his last 10 holes.
He is at No. 49 and hopes to play four out of the next five weeks, taking him to East Lake and through the U.S. Open. He didn't make a birdie until his ninth hole, but he finished with the five birdies over the last 10 holes. Woods went back to his old putter — the one he has used for 14 of his 15 major championships.
His bigger challenge was getting it close enough to have reasonable birdie chances. Those came at the end.
Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, was in danger of missing the BMW Championship for the first time since the FedEx Cup began in 2007. He came in at No. 67 and opened with a 74.
Baylor grads Luke List and Keith Mitchell are also in the playoffs but with much more work to do than English. List, 116th in the standings, opened with a 68 and was tied for 30th on the leaderboard. Mitchell, 105th in the standings, shot a 69 and was tied for 53rd.
Substantial advantage for rookie
RIDGEDALE, Mo. — Shane Bertsch shot his second straight 7-under 64 to take a four-stroke lead into the final round of the first leg of the Charles Schwab Series at Bass Pro Shops Big Cedar Lodge, his second tournament on the PGA Tour Champions.
"I don't think I've ever had a four-stroke lead going into the final day, but I feel like if I keep doing what I'm doing, I should have plenty of looks," said Bertsch, who turned 50 in March. "And I'm making some putts, so I'd rather it's four than three. I kind of struggled up the last hole, but I was glad to get a par in there."
Tied for the first-round lead with Tom Lehman, Bertsch had nine birdies and two bogeys at Buffalo Ridge in the first of two 54-hole events at Big Cedar Lodge. A three-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour, Bertsch made his pandemic-delayed senior debut three weeks ago with a tie for 45th in The Ally Challenge in Michigan.
Bernhard Langer had a 64 to move into a tie for second at 10 under with Kenny Perry (65) and Wes Short Jr. (66). The 62-year-old German star won in Tucson, Arizona, in March for his record 41st victory on the senior circuit.
American unfazed in Scotland
TROON, Scotland — Fences blew over behind Alena Sharp as she warmed up for her 6.30 a.m. start.
Nelly Korda's opening drive went 187 yards, and the fierce wind meant she had a hard time just walking the first three holes.
Buffeted by a gust on the 11th green, Lexi Thompson stepped back from a bogey putt, looked at her caddie, and had a wry laugh.
The opening round of the first women's major of a pandemic-affected year was a slog for many of the world's biggest names at Royal Troon Golf Club.
For Amy Olson, though, it was a stroll. The 28-year-old American was the only player to shoot below 70 in what some said was a four-club wind on the famous links in eastern Scotland, with her 4-under 67 securing a three-stroke lead.
"It was the best ball-striking day of my life," said Olson, who grew up hitting a low ball in strong winds in North Dakota, standing her in good stead for links play as she seeks her first title. "But I can't even describe how difficult it was out there."
Only two others in the 144-player field — Marina Alex of the United States and Sophia Popov of Germany — shot under par, each with a 70.
"It was brutal," said Popov, who was playing in 117 degrees Fahrenheit in Arizona last week and only arrived in Scotland on Tuesday.
Danielle Kang would agree. The in-form player — and, at No. 2, the highest-ranked competitor in the field — finished eagle-birdie-birdie just to shoot a 76, along with 2019 tournament champion Hinako Shibuno of Japan. Stacy Lewis, the 2013 champion at St. Andrews, had the same score after arriving on the back of a win across the country at the Ladies Scottish Open on Sunday.
Thompson, an American ranked No. 10, dropped five shots in two holes on Nos. 11 and 12 and had a 78.
The conditions were worse for the morning starters, who encountered winds of up to 50 miles per hour. For some, it was four seasons in one day.
Olson went out in the afternoon and made only one bogey, on the par-4 third hole. She responded by chipping in for birdie at No. 4 and hitting to within a foot with an 8-iron from 191 yards for another at No. 6. Another birdie arrived at No. 11, before her tee shot at the par-3 14th hole settled three feet from the cup for another birdie. Her fifth birdie came at No. 16.
Same course, new tourney
NEWPORT, Wales — Sam Horsfield began his bid for a third title in four starts on the European Tour by shooting a 2-over 73 in the first round of the Wales Open, leaving him seven strokes off the lead held by England's Jordan Smith and Scotland's Connor Syme.
Horsfield won the Hero Open three weeks ago for his first professional win and followed that up with another victory at the Celtic Classic on Sunday. Back at the same Celtic Manor course four days later for the latest event in the tour's U.K. Swing, the 23-year-old Englishman birdied three of his first five holes but then bogeyed four of his next five. He also had a double bogey on the par-4 15th.
Syme tied for third in the Celtic Classic after beginning the final round in the lead and is off to another good start, making seven birdies Thursday.
Four players were tied for third at 68: Kurt Kitayama of the United States, Robert MacIntyre of Scotland, Callum Shinkwin of England and Sebastian Soderberg of Sweden.