By DOUG FERGUSON
PARAMUS, N.J. (AP) — Tiger Woods failed to carry any momentum he had from his last tournament into the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Neither did Sean O’Hair. That was only good news for one of them Thursday in The Northern Trust. O’Hair missed the cut last week and saw his FedEx Cup standing slip to No. 121, meaning he has to play well this week or his season is over. His immediate goal is to advance to the third stage of events because the BMW Championship is at Aronimink outside Philadelphia, where O’Hair is a member.
He drilled a 3-wood from 284 yards to 6 feet for eagle on No. 3. He hammered another 3-wood on the par-5 17th to 10 feet, settling for a two-putt birdie. That carried O’Hair to a 5-under 66, giving him a share of the lead with Kevin Tway, Jamie Lovemark and Vaughn Taylor. “I’m obviously very disappointed that I’m not in a better position, but I’m kind of in charge of my destiny,” O’Hair said. “If I play good golf I’m just going to work into the next week.” Woods, playing for the first time since his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, had a pair of birdies, a pair of bogeys, a lot of pars and a 71.
He was five shots behind and in a tie for 60th. After a rough start off the tee, Woods wound up hitting nine of 14 fairways. He just never got it close enough for good looks at birdie.
“Just didn’t have the situations where I had the full club and I could go ahead and take a rip at it and start being aggressive and going after these flags,” Woods said. “I kept having to play a little defensive because I was taking more club, trying to shape it and take spin off. One of those days.” Woods is back in the FedEx Cup playoffs for the first time in five years, and it was his first time at Ridgewood Country Club since 2010.
Thousands came to watch him play, and they heard plenty of cheers from the group behind him. Dustin Johnson rimmed out a 6-iron on the par-3 sixth for one of his seven birdies to offset a triple bogey for a 67. U.S. Open and PGA champion Brooks Koepka ran off four birdies and an eagle for his 67. FedEx Cup champion Justin Thomas had four birdies in his round of 69. Johnson could tell his 6-iron was close to perfect from the flight of the shot, where it landed and the reaction of the fans behind the par-3 sixth green as the ball rolled around left edge of the cup.
Or were they cheering because Woods teed off on the hole ahead of them? “I was kind of debating whether they were yelling for me or him,” Johnson said with a smile. O’Hair isn’t alone in the urgency to play well. The top 100 advance to the second stage next week at the TPC Boston, with the top 70 going to the BMW Championship and the top 30 making it to East Lake in Atlanta for the Tour Championship. Tway and Lovemark are in the mid-80s in the FedEx Cup, while Taylor is at No. 112. Tway began his week playing in a charity event with good friend Morgan Hoffmann, who is coping with muscular dystrophy. Hoffmann is a reminder of how far players can go with the FedEx Cup points quadrupled in the playoffs.
“Morgan Hoffmann came in at 124 and went all the way to The Tour Championship,” Tway said, referring to 2014. “That’s kind of the plan, try to play as good as you can and go as far as you can.” Johnson had no idea where his tee shots were going until late in his round, yet he still managed to pile up birdies. One wild drive cost him at the 17th, where the ball went so far left it wasn’t even worth searching for in the woods. Johnson made triple bogey. “I hit that ball 70 yards left of where I was looking,” he said. “If I’m trying to hit a high cut, if anything I’m going to over- cut it to the right. And it came off low and hooked. So I just laughed. Wasn’t funny when I made triple, though.”
O’Hair doesn’t sound like he’s playing under a lot of pressure. He had knee surgery last year that kept him from most of the fall events, putting him behind. He decided to keep playing until he had his card locked up, and then he was runner-up at the Valero Texas Open.
“After that, I kind of just checked out mentally because I knew I was safe and kind of lost my drive a little bit,” he said. He took off the month of June, which he had never done, and hasn’t played very well since then. But he’s back to work, first on his long game and late on his putter, and he found the right formula on a rain-softened course at Ridgewood.
It was a good start, nothing more. And while he would love to play on his home course in two weeks at Aronimink, he’s not obsessed with it. O’Hair said he came into the playoffs with one eye toward next year. “It’s not like, ‘Hey, I need to do this to play Aronimink,'” O’Hair said. “I’ll play Aronimink after the tournament. I think I’ve got a member-guest the following week.”