Thursday
Sep142017

Down under back on top in BMW

Writing from Lake Forest, Illinois

Thursday, September 14, 2017

 

Marc Leishman had been all over the map in the first two stages of the PGA Tour’s playoffs, missing the cut in New Jersey and finishing third in Boston, after leading in the latter tournament.

So far at Conway Farms Golf Club, Leishman is trying to chart a new path to the top. He fired a 9-under-par 62 on Thursday and leads by two strokes after one round of the BMW Championship.

That’s sensational, but not unprecedented. It just so happens that two years ago, fellow Australian Jason Day opened with a 10-under 61 and went on to romp to victory at Conway.

Guess who is on Leishman’s heels entering Friday’s frolic? Exactly. Day himself, with a 7-under 64 keyed by four birdies in the final six holes. That’s a bit opposite of Leishman, who was 9-under through 15 holes and parred in.

Either way, each round worked. On a day when the majority of the 70-player field was under par and only four players were 3-over or worse on the par-71 test, the field averaged 68.855. Leishman was almost seven shots better, Day, and fellow 64 shooters Charley Hoffman and Jamie Lovemark nearly five shots better. They chewed the place up like a Vegemite sandwich.

So much, once again, for the tougher Conway Farms. Maybe it was the 20-minute fog delay in the morning, but this Tom Fazio layout rolls over like a puppy wanting its tummy rubbed when the pros show up.

Leishman, for his part, was thinking of the course record Jim Furyk established four years ago: 59.

“It entered my mind for a little bit,” Leishman admitted. “I think anyone who starts going low would get that, but we’re here to do a job and I guess that’s when I concentrate on, trying to play each hole as good as I possibly can, not the end result.”

Leishman poured in 10 birdies in his 15-hole binge, including a 21-footer on the ninth hole to cap an outward 5-under 30, and a 19-footer on the par-3 11th. Aside from a bogey on the par-3 sixth, his round was spotless.

“I’m rolling the ball real well, making all the putts you should and then a couple of longer ones a round,” said Leishman, seeking his second win of the year following victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Day, with pal Luke Reardon having replaced longtime caddie Colin Swatton on his bag, all but floated around the course. Maybe it was the new putter in his bag, not the new bag toter.

“Changing to the Ardmore has definitely helped for alignment purposes,” Day said. “I felt like I was a lot more comfortable.”

He should have been, with six birdies and an eagle – that on the par-5 eighth, where he hit his second shot to 3 feet 4 inches, a gimme in a friendly game. Sinking a 21-footer on the 10th hole didn’t hurt either.

Hoffman recorded his 64 despite a pair of bogeys, while Lovemark eagled the par-5 18th to get to 7-under. But the hottest streak of the day belonged to Rickie Fowler, whose 6-under 65 was built on six straight birdies from the 12th though the 17th holes, the last a 64-yard chip-in after his tee shot on the par-3 came up a few feet short of the putting surface. He missed a 14-foot birdie putt in his bid for a seventh straight birdie, which would have tied Hubert Green’s record from the 1985 Western Open, but he’s in good shape, tied for fifth with Keegan Bradley, Tony Finau, Rafa Cabrera-Bello and one Jordan Spieth.

The latter lad went out in 4-under 31 and seemed poised for more of the same on the inward half, but made only two more birdies in his bogey-free circuit of Conway. Spieth, Lovemark, Finau and Phil Mickelson, among those tied for 10th at 5-under 66, were the only bogey-free players among the leaders.

“I felt like I really stole a few shots out of this golf course,” Spieth said.

Mickelson, off his usual high standard much of the year, rallied to finish tied for sixth in Boston, and picked it up from there in his bid to climb up from 36th into the top 30 in the standings to make next week’s Tour Championship.

“I think going bogey-free shows that I’m much more in tune with each shot,” Mickelson said. “I only hit one or two tee shots I wasn’t happy with, and from there was able to recover.”

Mickelson only hit eight fairways, but found 14 greens in regulation and saved par on the other four holes. His approaches were on target. His two longest putts, both birdies, were from 13 and 11 feet on the 12th and 14th holes, respectively.

Finau (39th) and Lovemark (58th) are also scrapping for a top-30 standings placing. At this pace, they’ll squeeze in, but 54 holes remain.

Around Conway Farms

Danny Lee opened with a birdie and parred the second hole, but after his second shot on the third hole, he was on the turf, a bad back acting up so painfully that he was forced to withdraw. He was in the day’s last twosome with Anirban Lahiri. ... Defending champion Dustin Johnson shot even-par 71 and is tied for 49th. ... The field scoring average of 68.855 is the third-lowest in Western Open / BMW Championship history, and second-lowest of the nine rounds played at Conway Farms, behind only the 67.928-average second round two years ago, played under lift, clean and place conditions. ... Jason Day powered the day’s longest drive, a 367-yard blast on the par-5 eighth hole. It set up his tight approach and eagle putt. 

Tim Cronin

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