Spi­eth stum­bles out of the blocks at Bar­clays

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON

The start of the FedEx Cup play­offs brought out t he worst score from Jor­dan Spi­eth in three months. In his first tour­na­ment as No. 1 in the world, Spi­eth had a pair of three-putt bo­geys, hit a tee shot in the wa­ter, shot 40 on his back nine and wound up with a 4-over 74 in the open­ing round of The Bar­clays. It was his high­est score since a 75 in The Play­ers Cham­pi­onship, the last time he missed a cut.

“Just lost a lit­tle bit of fo­cus,” Spi­eth said. “All in all, I’m just go­ing to take to­day as a fluke round. I still be­lieve I’m play­ing well. It just hap­pened to be an off day on a day where it counted.”

Bubba Wat­son and Tony Finau pow­ered their way around Plain­field Coun­try Club and each had a 5-un­der 65. They were in a four­way tie for the lead that in­cluded Spencer Levin and Camilo Vil­le­gas, play­ers who are in dire need of a good week.

Vil­le­gas only got into the top 125 to qual­ify for the play­offs last week at the Wyn­d­ham Cham­pi­onship, with two shots to spare. That was pres­sure. Now he feels as though he has noth­ing to lose as he tries to get into the top 100 who ad­vance to the sec­ond event next week at the TPC Bos­ton.

“Last week was an im­por­tant week,” said Vil­le­gas, who is No. 123. “It hasn’t been the best of years, and just to be able to sneak in here and give my­self a chance ... I get off to a good start, and three more rounds to go and keep it go­ing.”

Levin se­cured his spot in the play­offs with a 63 in the fi­nal round at the Wyn­d­ham, mov­ing up seven spots to No. 115. Much like Vil­le­gas, he felt re­lieved to have made it to The Bar­clays, and ev­ery­thing else is gravy. He rolled in three early birdies and dropped only one shot on a mild, blus­tery day.

“This is a nice stress to have,” he said. “I’m happy with where I am right now and who knows? Maybe I can keep it go­ing.”

Spi­eth has noth­ing to lose ex­cept the No. 1 rank­ing he has held for all of two weeks.

With two ma­jors among his four wins, and nine top-three fin­ishes this year, he is No. 1 in the FedEx Cup and vir­tu­ally as­sured of get­ting to the fi­nale at East Lake with a clear shot at the US$10 mil­lion bonus. He can af­ford an off week or three. He just didn’t like it.

Play­ing along­side Wat­son and Jason Day — the top three in the FedEx Cup — Spi­eth didn’t miss a fair­way on the back nine and was 2 un­der at the turn, three shots be- hind Wat­son. From the fair­way on No. 1 to a back pin, he got too ag­gres­sive and went over the green, lead­ing to bo­gey. Fac­ing a 20-foot birdie putt on the next hole, he left in woe­fully short and backed off the par putt twice be­fore miss­ing it. And then he put his next shot in the wa­ter.

The round ended with another three-putt bo­gey.

Spi­eth could lose the No. 1 rank­ing to Rory McIl­roy, who is not play­ing this week as a pre­cau­tion com­ing off an an­kle in­jury. The next step for Spi­eth?

“Do what I’ve done best — bounce back,” he said. “I come back strong to­mor­row. I’m not a big fan of the course. It doesn’t fit me very well par­tic­u­larly, but I’ve also won on cour­ses that I didn’t think fit me very well. So I know I can still shoot a low round if I hit the shots that I need to hit, that I’m try­ing to hit.

“Typ­i­cally when I hit the fair­ways, I’m not over par. And that’s what was weird about the round.”

Wat­son wasn’t hit­ting all the fair­ways, but at times that was to his ad­van­tage. The greens are pitched in such a way that some shots have to carry to the hole, al­low­ing for spin to make sure it stays be­low the hole. That’s what caused Spi­eth prob­lems.

From the rough, Wat­son was able to land short of the flag and have it roll up to­ward the hole. That set up am­ple birdies.

Ditto for Finau, the power Utah rookie.

“So No. 9 to­day with that pin just on top of the ridge, if you draw a de­cent lie in the rough, it’s al­most eas­ier to just run some­thing up in­stead of wor­ry­ing about the spin if you’re hit­ting from the fair­way,” Finau said.

He had the wildest round. Finau opened with three straight birdies, fol­lowed with three straight bo­geys, made one par and then ran off three more birdies.

Paul Casey and Jason Dufner were in the large group at 66. Day joined Phil Mick­el­son and Rickie Fowler in the group at 68.

Day pulled out of the proam Wed­nes­day af­ter tweak­ing his back. Oddly enough, he had wanted an MRI on his back be­fore the play­offs to make sure ev­ery­thing was in or­der. He felt the twinge re­mov­ing a light box from un­der his mo­tor home, and de­cided to have the MRI on Wed­nes­day. It showed ev­ery­thing in good or­der, and while the PGA cham­pion rubbed his back af­ter a few hooked tee shots, he felt good enough.

De­fend­ing cham­pion Hunter Ma­han birdied his open­ing hole and went on to shoot 78. Justin Rose had a 77, while de­fend­ing FedEx Cup cham­pion Billy Horschel had a 76.

AP

Wil­liam McGirt hits a tee shot on the 11th hole dur­ing the first round of play at The Bar­clays golf tour­na­ment in Edi­son, New Jersey, Thurs­day, Aug. 27.

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