The top five players in the FedExCup standings hold a special trump card this week in that they automatically win the overall playoffs and $10 million grand prize with a win at the fourth and final leg of the postseason. There's no need to rely in the nebulous mathematical formulas that always complicate the FedExCup points system. In Thursday's first round, two of the top three jumped up to the top of the leaderboard, while No. 1 Tiger Woods sank to the bottom in a rare birdie-free round.
Henrik Stenson takes the 18-hole lead after an opening round 6-under 64. The temperamental Swede was last seen decapitating his driver in anger, and then subsequently destroying the locker room at Conway Farms on Monday. He was also nursing tendinitis in his wrist, which prohibited any serious work in Atlanta on Wednesday. So his chances at the season finale didn't look good this morning, but there he was, firing out of the gate on Thursday afternoon with five birdies in his first seven holes.
Stenson has long been one of the most talented players in the world, but he dramatically fell off the map for a two-year stretch, trying to find the form that once pushed him inside the top 5 in the world rankings. He's found the form this summer, contending at The Players and making a run at the last two majors of the year. He finally got a victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship, the second event of the 2013 FedExCup. That boosted him to No. 1 in the points race, but he lost it back to Woods in Chicago after a middling performance. Stenson said the early birdie run, from No. 1 through No. 7, was as good as he's ever hit the ball in his career. He fired dart after dart into the greens, and then held on to get to 6-under with a birdie on the last hole of the day.
One spot behind Stenson in the FedExCup standings is Adam Scott, who's now also one shot back at East Lake. Scott is also still in the running for the Player of the Year award alongside Tiger and Phil Mickelson. Scott's POY campaign started with a win in Georgia, down the road in Augusta, and a win this week would lock up a $10 million windfall and likely give him the edge over five-time winner Tiger. Unlike Stenson, Scott did most of his work on the back side, carding six birdies in a seven-hole stretch on the inward nine to shoot up the board (much like he did for the come-from-behind win at The Barclays last month).
Tiger, who's the only player ahead of Stenson and Scott, had a brutal day at East Lake. It was a grind just to stay out of last place, and he finished at 3-over, good enough for solo second-to-last. Woods was wild off the tee, inaccurate with his distance control irons, and then shaky up on and around the green. He started with a solid tee-to-green effort on No. 1, but then missed a six-footer for birdie and his ugly day was just beginning. Woods three-putted the par-5 ninth for a brutal par, and he'd finish without a birdie for just the seventh time in a career of 1,083 rounds as a PGA Tour pro (via Golf Channel). It had been more than three years since Tiger played a round without a red number, and that came on an always treacherous U.S. Open layout (2010 at Pebble).
Tiger's battled a bad back and questionable penalties to stay atop the FedExCup standings through this postseason, but he looked miserable on Thursday. He bolted away from the media and declined all requests after the round, much like he did in Chicago last week when he was dinged two-strokes. There are only 30 players in the field, so he still has a reasonable shot at winning it all. But with the current leaders the two guys right behind him in points, and now nine shots ahead this week, he's facing a daunting task over the final 54 holes.
Here are your final first round results:
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