Séamus Power’s one-under-par 70 was more impressive than the score might initially suggest on the opening day of the Northern Trust tournament at Liberty National golf course in New Jersey, the first of three events in the FedEx playoff series.
The 34-year-old Waterford golfer teed it up in 73rd place in the FedEx standings – the top 70 in the rankings go forward to the BMW Championship at Caves Valley in Maryland next week and only 30 will play the PGA Tour finale at East Lake in Atlanta in a fortnight’s time – so a priority would have been to try and make some inroads on those ahead of him.
Making the weekend is crucial to that goal and Power has given himself a decent lie in that respect. Windy conditions made it a morning for grinding and that challenge proved beyond the FedEx series leader and British Open champion, Collin Morikawa (74) and the golfer who finished two shots behind him at Royal St George's, Jordan Spieth (72). For Power the number 10 was to be quite prominent during his round; it was the hole he started on, the number of fairways he hit out of 14, the number of times he found greens in regulation and one final statistic, he didn't miss a putt inside 10 feet.
A birdie on the par-five 13th provided some early momentum but he gave the shot back on the first, his 10th, failing to get up and down after missing the green. He dipped back under regulation figures with a birdie at the par-three seventh, holing from seven feet to crown a solid day’s work.
If Power’s progress was prosaic in scoring terms then the same could not be said of Rory McIlroy’s jaunt around Liberty National. His level-par 71 proved something of a rock’n’roll affair containing five birdies and five bogeys.
He holed a 34-foot putt on the first for birdie but missed greens on two and three led to a brace of bogeys and despite draining another sizeable putt for birdie on the fifth, he gave it straight back on the next a reachable par five; the trouble coming from a wild tee shot. Reaching the 13th with his second shot, he two-putted for birdie but three goes with the blade at the next saw him slip to one over.
He drove the par-four 16th to set-up a birdie, followed immediately by another with a glorious wedge to six feet, but another errant tee shot on the last pre-empted an infuriating dropped shot at the last.
Much like McIlroy, Shane Lowry’s opening round was topsy-turvy. Three over after three holes after starting with double-bogey six on the 10th and making a bogey on the 12th, the Clara golfer made birdies and the 13th and 17th to turn in one-over 36 and came home in one under to sit alongside his fellow Olympian on level par.
At the top of the leaderboard, Jon Rahm continued his hot form with a scintillating opening round of 63 to get to eight under par, a mark which was matched only by Justin Thomas with Harold Varner III three shots behind in third place.
Rahm played his final four holes at three under and finished bogey-free, while Thomas recovered from an errant tee shot on the 18th to finish off with a string of three birdies.
Rahm, the world No1, and Thomas, ranked No5, are off to a hot start at the first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Only 125 players qualified for the field based on points accrued during the regular season.
Their low scores came at the end of a day marked by unpredictable winds.
“It’s extremely difficult,” Rahm said. “The fact that me and Justin shot a low score like that, it shows it’s possible, but we both play really, really good golf. ... If the wind stays up like this, let’s not expect everybody or all of us to be shooting 8-under every single day because that’s just not going to happen. Scores are out there. I think we just showed it. That’s mainly due to the fact of the softness of the greens.”
Rahm strung together three birdies twice during his round at the sixth, seventh and eighth and again at the 15th, 16th and 17th. Despite positive Covid-19 tests knocking him out of Memorial and the Olympics, Rahm is looking to continue a stellar season with the US Open victory as its cornerstone.
Thomas’ tee shot on the final hole hooked left and landed up on a hill to the outside of the cart path. But he played an outstanding second shot from 188 yards away, putting it to three feet to set up his ninth and final birdie of the day.
Thomas credited a switch back to a former putter he hadn’t used since before the Scottish Open and Open Championship.
“I was like, why am I not using this thing?” Thomas said. “I’ve had a lot of success. It’s not like I’m making a lot of putts with what I have. If you’re putting well, any of us can go out and putt with anything. I don’t know, it kind of hit me.”
Bryson DeChambeau had a wild afternoon, making five bogeys, two double bogeys, nine birdies and just two pars - adding up to a level par 71. It was the fourth round the PGA Tour had on record in which a golfer made two pars or fewer and still finished at even or under par.
DeChambeau’s score fluctuated all day so that he was never lower than one under par and never higher than two over.
Defending champion Dustin Johnson, the three-time winner at the Northern Trust, shot a one under 70. FedEx Cup points leader Collin Morikawa turned in a three over 74.
Meanwhile on the European Tour, European Ryder Cup captain Pádraig Harrington (70) leads the Irish contingent at the D&D Real Czech Masters at the Albatross course in Prague following his two-under-par opening round, three shots behind the joint leaders Sweden's Henrik Stenson (67) and Australian Maverick Antcliff (67).
Gavin Moynihan signed for a 71 while Niall Kearney and Michael Young will have plenty of work to do if they are to make the weekend after carding a pair of 76s.
Northern Trust Open scores
USA unless stated, Par 71
63 Jon Rahm (Spa), Justin Thomas
66 Harold Varner III
67 Tony Finau, Mackenzie Hughes (Can), Kevin Na, Adam Scott (Aus), Robert Streb, Cameron Tringale
68 Patrick Cantlay, Cameron Champ, Viktor Hovland (Nor), Keith Mitchell, Sebastian Munoz (Col)
69 Keegan Bradley, Cameron Davis (Aus), Harris English, Lanto Griffin, Russell Henley, Garrick Higgo (Rsa), Harry Higgs, Tom Hoge, Anirban Lahiri (Ind), Marc Leishman (Aus), Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Maverick McNealy, Alexander Noren (Swe), Carlos Ortiz (Mex), Andrew Putnam, Cameron Smith (Aus), Kevin Streelman, Erik van Rooyen (Rsa), Aaron Wise
70 Paul Casey (Eng), Corey Conners (Can), Joel Dahmen, Dylan Frittelli (Rsa), Emiliano Grillo (Arg), Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Patton Kizzire, Russell Knox (Sco), Brooks Koepka, Jason Kokrak, Peter Malnati, Henrik Norlander (Swe), Séamus Power (Irl), Xander Schauffele, Scottie Scheffler, Jhonattan Vegas (Ven), Lee Westwood (Eng)
71 Daniel Berger, Sam Burns, Stewart Cink, Bryson DeChambeau, Doug Ghim, Branden Grace (Rsa), James Hahn, Billy Horschel, Sung Jae Im (Kor), Kyoung-Hoon Lee (Kor), Luke List, Shane Lowry (Irl), Rory McIlroy (NIrl), Joaquin Niemann (Chi), Pat Perez, Scott Piercy, Chez Reavie, Hudson Swafford, Bubba Watson, Gary Woodland
72 Abraham Ancer (Mex), Brice Garnett, Brian Gay, Brian Harman, Tyrrell Hatton (Eng), Kramer Hickok, Si Woo Kim (Kor), Chris Kirk, Adam Long, Tyler McCumber, Troy Merritt, Ian Poulter (Eng), Sam Ryder, Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Jordan Spieth
73 Jason Day (Aus), Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng), Talor Gooch, Charley Hoffman, Martin Laird (Sco), Denny McCarthy, Phil Mickelson, Ryan Palmer, Doc Redman, Adam Schenk, Sepp Straka (Aut), Brian Stuard, Brendon Todd
74 Lucas Glover, Max Homa, Collin Morikawa, Matthew NeSmith, Chengtsung Pan (Tai), Scott Stallings
75 Sergio Garcia (Spa), Chesson Hadley, Adam Hadwin (Can), Matt Kuchar, Kyle Stanley
76 Kevin Kisner, Hank Lebioda, J. T. Poston, Richy Werenski, Matthew Wolff
78 Wyndham Clark, Brandon Hagy, Brendan Steele
79 Matt Jones (Aus), Roger Sloan (Can)
Czech Masters scores
British and Irish unless stated, par 72
67 Henrik Stenson (Swe), Maverick Antcliff (Aus)
68 Danny Willett, Dean Burmester (Rsa), Sam Horsfield, Sean Crocker (USA), Tapio Pulkkanen (Fin), Paul Peterson (USA), Adrian Meronk (Pol), Nicolai Hoejgaard (Den), Ondrej Lieser (Cze)
69 Daniel van Tonder (Rsa), Sebastian Heisele (Ger), Aaron Cockerill (Can), Jacques Kruyswijk (Rsa), Marcel Schneider (Ger), Janne Kaske (Fin)
70 Richard Mansell, Sebastian Soederberg (Swe), Ross McGowan, Ryan Fox (Nzl), Pádraig Harrington, Joakim Lagergren (Swe), Soeren Kjeldsen (Den), Oliver Fisher, Tae-Hee Lee (Kor), Niklas Lemke (Swe), Shiv Chawrasia (Ind), J. C. Ritchie (Rsa), Pep Angles (Esp), Steven Tiley, Daniel Young, Philip Eriksson (Swe), Jordan Wrisdale, Gary Stal (Fra), Shiv Kapur (Ind)
71 Joost Luiten (Ned), Callum Shinkwin, Adrien Pendaries (Fra), Michal Pospisil (Cze), Vincent Norrman (Swe), Zander Lombard (Rsa), Nino Bertasio (Ita), Jazz Janewattananond (Tha), Robin Roussel (Fra), Johannes Veerman (USA), Svn-Hwan Kim (USA), Lee Slattery, Gavin Moynihan, Marcel Siem (Ger), Nicolai von Dellingshausen (Ger), Deyen Lawson (Aus), Rory Sabbatini (Svk)
72 Brandon Stone (Rsa), Sami Valimaki (Fin), Bryden MacPherson (Aus), Filip Mruzek (Cze), Matyas Zapletal (Cze), Haydn Porteous (Rsa), David Howell, Lars van Meijel (Ned), Hugo Leon (Chi), Clement Sordet (Fra), Yi-Keun Chang (Kor), Louis de Jager (Rsa), Max Schmitt (Ger), Ben Evans, Emilio Cuartero (Esp), Damien Perrier (Fra), Tom Gandy (IoM), Aaron Zemmer (Ita), Berry Henson (USA)
73 Tadeas Tetak (Svk), Jan Cafourek (Cze), Darren Fichardt (Rsa), Benjamin Poke (Den), Jake McLeod (Aus), Josh Geary (Nzl), Romain Wattel (Fra), Liam Johnston, Matthew Baldwin
74 Andrea Pavan (Ita), Renato Paratore (Ita), Michael Feuerstein (USA), Jiri Zuska (Cze), Matej Baca (Cze), Ales Korinek (Cze), Jakub Bares (Cze), Adria Arnaus (Esp), Gavin Green (Mal), Julien Guerrier (Fra), Rikard Karlberg (Swe), David Coupland, Garrick Porteous, Bryce Easton (Rsa), Bernd Ritthammer (Ger), Jesper Sandborg (Swe), Chase Hanna (USA), Ajeetesh Sandhu (Ind)
75 Matthiam Keyser (Rsa), Gordan Brixi (Cze), Simon Zach (Cze), Lukas Tintera (Cze), Toby Tree, Rhys Enoch, Eduardo de la Riva (Esp), David Dixon
76 Liam Robinson, Joshua Grenville-Wood, Suradit Yongcharoenchai (Tha), Niall Kearney, Stanislav Matus (Cze), Stepan Danek (Cze), Michael Young
77 George Coetzee (Rsa) Maximilian Jelinek (Cze), Carlos Pigem (Esp), Kristoffer Reitan (Nor), Tyler Koivisto (USA)
78 Pavol Mach (Svk)
79 Gary King, Sebastian Garcia (Esp)
80 Krystof Strycek (Cze)
89 Sebastian Vida (Svk)