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Thursday's golf: English continues surge with early lead in FedEx Cup opener

Associated Press

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 on the back nine of the TPC Boston to start his round, English hit 5-iron on the 11th and 12th holes, both of them to about 8 feet 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 Kevin Streelman, Cameron Davis of Australia and Russell Henley, who finished with a tap-in eagle.

Harris English hits hits his tee shot on the 17th hole in the first round of the Northern Trust golf tournament at TPC Boston on Thursday.

Good starts were important to so many in the FedEx Cup playoffs, which are as much about advancing as avoiding elimination. The top 70 from the 122-man field (three players have withdrawn) move on to next week for another $9.5 million event.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.

Tiger Woods opened with a 68 with five birdies over his last 10 holes.

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. His good start was 11 months ago when 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 10s 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 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 Louis Oosthuizen, Charley Hoffman 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.”

Hot start for Woods

Tiger Woods got off to a hot start Thursday before even hitting his first shot.

The images of Woods on the practice range rubbing his upper back with a towel and placing a cold bottle of water on the back of his neck was alarming for someone who has endured four back surgeries. He said last month at the Memorial that he has days when his back doesn’t feel right.

This wasn’t one of them.

Woods had some heating oils applied to his upper back before teeing off in The Northern Trust, and they were a little spicy. He was rubbing off the excess and trying to cool it down with the water.

Once he got on the TPC Boston, it took him a little more time to heat up.

Woods didn’t make a birdie until a two-putt on the par-5 18th hole as he made the turn, and then he ran off four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the front nine for a 3-under 68. That left him four shots out of the lead.

“My lower back is used to it,” Woods said about the hot oils. “We do it all the time just so I can get loose. I decided to put some up on my neck, and it’s not as tolerant as my lower back, so it gets awfully hot. It’s common in pretty much every other sport, and especially hockey. Those guys put some pretty hot stuff on their legs, but you become accustomed to it.

“My lower back is pretty immune to it,” he said. “But my neck is not.”

His 68 was his lowest start since his last victory at the Zozo Championship in Japan, though it’s a small sample size. Woods has played only five times since then. Having played only twice since the PGA Tour resumed in June, he has slipped to No. 49 in the FedEx Cup with a goal of being among the top 30 after two weeks so he can reach the Tour Championship.

Woods went back to his old putter – slightly shorter than the one he used at Harding Park in the PGA Championship two weeks ago – and didn’t have any good looks at birdie until he reached the par-5 18th in two.

On the front nine, which played about a half-stroke easier, he had more chances and converted most of them. He made birdie on both par 3s, from 15 feet on No. 3 and from 6 feet below the cup on No. 8.

“Whenever I gave myself a look, I made them,” he said.

PGA Tour Champions

Shane Bertsch shot his second straight 7-under 64 on Thursday to take a four-stroke lead into the final round of the Charles Schwab Series at Bass Pro Shops Big Cedar Lodge, his second event 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,” Bertsch said. “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.

“It’s fun when you get rolling like that,” Bertsch said. “I had a couple streaks where I think I made three in a row twice.”

The 50-year-old Bertsch, a three-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour, made his delayed senior debut three weeks ago with a tie for 45th in The Ally Challenge in Michigan.