NORTON, Mass. – The NBA Playoffs started this week, and in the opening game of their series against the Los Angeles Lakers, the eighth-seed Portland Trailblazers upset the Western Division’s top-seeded team. The Orlando Magic, another 8-seed, defeated the Eastern Division’s top team, the Milwaukee Bucks.
Like Lakers and Bucks fans, golf lovers probably assumed that one of the top-ranked players this week at TPC Boston would take command early at the Northern Trust. Justin Thomas tops the FedEx Cup point list and is ranked No. 2 in the world. Collin Morikawa arrived in Norton, Massachusetts, ranked second in FedEx Cup points thanks to winning the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park two weeks ago. Maybe Rory McIlroy, he’s won twice on this course.
Cameron Davis’s name was probably never mentioned in discussions about potential winners. Andy why should it be? Entering this week, he was 203rd on the Official World Golf Ranking, No. 91 on the FedEx Cup point list and he’s missed the cut in four of the seven PGA Tour events he has played since the Tour’s restart. But on a New England morning that was so beautiful James Taylor probably wrote a song about it, Davis, 25, lit up TPC Boston. He carded eight birdies en route to a 64 and a share of the first-round lead.
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“My swing was a little sloppy, and I wasn’t hitting the ball very solid on the range,” Davis said Thursday evening. “The start to this back nine, which is where I started my round, is very strong, and (I) hit a lot of good quality shots. I feel really proud of the way I dug in.”
Davis is joined by other players who did not get a lot of attention heading into the week: Harris English and Kevin Streelman.
“It helps when the greens are soft,” said English, who was a standout at the University of Georgia. “Five-iron into No. 11, then a really good shot, a 5-iron, at No. 12. (On) 13 I hit 8-iron and 14 I hit 7-iron. A lot of mid-irons, a lot of long irons and I feel like you’ve got to hit those clubs well. I felt like my iron game was on point.”
That’s one way to describe it. English hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation and finished the day ranked No. 1 in proximity to the hole and second in strokes gained approach the green, a stat that measures how much of an edge a player has on the field based on his iron game.
“I don’t swing it like everybody else, and other people don’t swing it like I do,” English said after being asked about switching coaches and searching for a better move. “I can’t look at how Rory swings it, how Dustin swings it, how Brooks swings it. I mean, everybody is different, and I’ve begun to realize that.”
Streelman, 41, came into the week ranked No. 22 in FedEx Cup points. He has two runner-up finishes this season but hasn’t won a PGA Tour event since the 2014 Travelers Championship. A strong showing here could put him in a position to reach his first Tour Championship since 2013.
“(I) just kind of did what I was supposed to today, and you’ve got to keep pushing,” Streelman said. “I think the wind is not going to be a major factor this weekend. The weather looks beautiful. The course in perfect shape. I’m excited to get out in the morning with even better greens than we had today.”
Another Georgia Bulldog who had a great day was two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, who shot 65 in the afternoon wave.
“The problem that I’ve had over the last year or so is the mental part, the thinking,” Watson said. “I’ve been trying to work on that a little bit. I knew my ballstriking was in the right spot. We’ve got three more days, so I could shoot 102 tomorrow, but right now, I’m hitting the driver really nicely. I’ve got an old (Ping) B60 (putter) in the bag now from my junior days, so I rolled the ball nicely as well.”
Other players who shot 65 on Thursday were Louis Oosthuizen, Scott Piercy, Kevin Kisner, Matthew Wolff and Charley Hoffman, who won on this course in 2010, and Sebastian Munoz, who birdied his first seven holes.
Among the notable players who also posted low scores are:
- Daniel Berger, Adam Scott and Tommy Fleetwood (66)
- Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson (67)
- Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele and Tiger Woods (68)
Woods put his old Scotty Cameron putter in the bag on Thursday, taking out the longer and heavier putter that he used at the PGA Championship.
“I had a good feel today. I had nice pace, and I like the speed of these greens,” Woods said. ” They’re fast. Even though they’re soft, but they’re still quick.”
Brooks Koepka withdrew from the Northern Trust on Wednesday due to a hip injury, and on Thursday morning, Ryan Moore withdrew after playing seven holes in 2-over par due to a back injury. Neither player was already inside the top 70 spots on the FedEx Cup point list, so they are out of the playoffs.
Among the notable players who struggled on Thursday were Phil Mickelson (74), Marc Leishman (75) and Graeme McDowell (77).