It was a pretty simple deal Thursday at the Northern Trust Championship.
If you wanted to go low, you were in the morning wave of tee times.
The New Jersey-New York area was blasted Wednesday night with high winds and rain and that softened things up at Liberty National and the conditions were a basic invitation for low scores and the big names obliged early.
World’s No. 1 Brooks Koepka came out like a turtle and shot 70 but the world’s No. 2, Dustin Johnson, finally came out of hibernation. D.J. hasn’t been a factor for most of the second half of the season and has moped around, firing then re-hiring teacher Claude Harmon III. Well, things clicked for D.J. early Thursday morning with four birdies over his first nine holes on the back then it was a flurry of birdies to finish it off. He was four-under over his final five holes and that got him in the house with a 63, a shot behind surprise leader Troy Merritt.
“I’ve been working pretty hard on my game the last month or so,” D.J. said when his day was done, showing his usual low-key state of mind. “Finally felt like it’s coming around. Obviously today was a really good score, but just want to make sure I keep it that way. It’s a golf course I like. We played here in The Presidents Cup a couple years ago and I’ve played a couple other events here. I really like the golf course. I think it sets up well for me, and with the conditions, you’ve got to hit really good shots if you want to get it close to the hole. But with the soft conditions, you can be kind of aggressive.
“Today I swung it really well and gave myself a lot of opportunities.”
And the putts finally fell for Johnson, whose putter has been uncooperative lately.
He wasn’t the only big name who played well. World’s No. 3 Rory McIlroy opened with 65.
McIlroy spotted the field a shot with a bogey at 10, his first hole of the morning.
“Pleased with the start,” McIlroy said. ” You know, didn’t get off to a great start this morning. Bogeyed the first hole, which was the 10th, but played really well after that. Played seven-under from there on in with no bogeys. I saw some better iron shots than I did in Memphis (WGC). I drove it just as good. I putted nicely. It’s so soft out there, you need to shoot low scores this week to have a chance. Obviously I’m still three shots behind the lead at this point and there are some pretty good players who have shot good scores, so just going to try to have to keep the foot down.”
Then there was Jon Rahm. Rahm’s 64 left him just two back of the leader.
It was the same deal. Early morning, back nine start and Rahm-bo jumped started his round with five straight birdies starting at the 16th.
“I didn’t realize until I think it was when I made the putt on two that I made so many birdies in a row,” said Rahm who was obviously in the zone. “I didn’t think about it too much. It’s obviously a great thing. I think last time I had a streak like that was in Pebble three years ago when I made six in a row.
“It definitely helps. It’s a great golf course. I think the main difference on those holes and the rest was I just gave myself a couple birdie chances.”
In all, there were 64 sub-70 rounds on Thursday with the lowest coming from the morning wave as some winds picked up in the afternoon.
More rain Thursday night could mean another scoring-fest Friday morning.
Cut line could be as low as two or three under.