Tiger Woods and his caddie Joe LaCava on the second hole during the first round of the BMW Championship golf tournament at Aronimink GC. (Eric Sucar-USA TODAY Sports)
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy took advantage of excellent scoring conditions to fire 8-under-par rounds of 62 on Thursday and tie for the lead after the first round of the BWM Championship in Newtown Square, Pa.
Woods and McIlroy took advantage of the wide-open par-70 Aronimink Golf Club to bomb drives and stick short iron approaches close to pins. They equaled the lowest round posted in a PGA Tour event at the course, shot by Nick Watney during the third round in 2011.
Only 13 of the 69 players in the field shot over par Thursday.
Reigning Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele is one shot off the lead at 7-under, with defending FedEx Cup champion Justin Thomas, Billy Horschel, Peter Uihlein and Sweden’s Alex Noren another shot off the pace.
Tee times for today’s second round were moved up with the expectation of heavy rain, but Thomas anticipates the scores will continue to be low even if the course softens up.
“It’s always going to be short, and it’s always going to take a lot of birdies to play well here,” he said of the 7,267-yard layout.
No one made more birdies than McIlroy’s 10, with the Northern Irishman setting a career high in a FedEx Cup playoff event. He skipped the first leg of the playoffs to work on his game, and particularly his wedge play. “Eight-under-par was good, it probably should have been a lot better,” McIlroy told the Golf Channel. “It’s a great start to the tournament.
“Everything was firing today. Whenever you hit it like that, it’s hard not to make birdies.”
Beginning on the back nine, McIlroy birdied three of his first four holes. He then birdied the 18th to begin a stretch of six consecutive birdies. Combined with a seven-hole birdie stretch on the second nine of his pro-am round Wednesday, and McIlroy said he was effectively 17-under over a 23-hole stretch.
He was at 9 under, but visions of a sub-60 round evaporated with bogeys on Nos. 8 and 9. McIlroy birdied his final hole to climb back into the lead with Woods, who finished five holes ahead of him.
“When I got to eight under par I needed two out of the last four, with a par 5 being one of them,” McIlroy said of when he started to think about the potential of breaking 60. “The bogey on seven was not good, and then the eighth hole is very difficult. A bogey there isn’t the end of the world, I just wish I could have capitalized on the sixth and seventh holes, but it’s still a great round of golf.”
Woods’ round also generated buzz of a potential 59 when he started on No. 10 and fired out of the gates with a 6-under 29 through his first nine holes. He then birdied No. 1 to get to 7-under, and narrowly missed a pair of birdie putts on the next two holes.
He reached 8 under with a tap-in on No. 7, but suffered his lone bogey of the day following a 15-minute wait on the next hole. Woods birdied No. 9 to polish off the fifth 62 of his career — one shy of his career low round of 61 accomplished four times.
“You definitely could do it today,” Woods told reporters of someone potentially shooting a sub-60 round. “The fairways are ample wide, it’s soft, and as hot as it is right now, we’re driving it down there anywhere between 310 and 340, so it’s really not that long of a golf course right now.”
Woods did it after switching back this week to the Scotty Cameron putter that he used in winning 13 of his 14 majors.
“It feels good,” Woods said. “I know the release point, and I know how it swings. My body morphs into a position where it understands where it needs to be to release the putter. I’ve hit hundreds of millions of putts with the damn thing. I’ve had it since ’99 ... my body just remembers it.”
It was Woods’ lowest round since firing a 61 in the second round of the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational, which was also his last victory.
Woods arrived at the BMW Championship ranked No. 25 in the FedEx Cup standings. He needs to stay within the top 30 to qualify for the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta in two weeks, and a victory at Aronimink would vault him to No. 2.
Bryson DeChambeau, who is assured of reaching the Tour Championship in two weeks with the No. 1 ranking in the FedEx Cup standings, is tied for 20th at 3-under. Thomas is currently projected at No. 2, followed by England’s Justin Rose, McIlroy and Woods.
Thomas projects to be just the third defending champ to make it back to the Tour Championship, joining Jordan Spieth and Brandt Snedeker.
The final player projected to be in the field at East Lake after Thursday’s first round is Kevin Na. Marc Leishman, the defending BMW champion, would be the first player out, followed by Emiliano Grillo, Ryan Armour, Ben An and C.T. Pan.