NORTON, Mass. (AP) — Phil Mickelson caused a minor commotion with his pants and his putter.
The Deutsche Bank Champion began Friday with two players on opposite ends of the world ranking – Luke Donald at No. 1, Troy Matteson at No. 207 – having their lowest opening round of the year on the PGA Tour that was important to both of them for different reasons.
Matteson, facing elimination from the FedEx Cup playoffs, overcame a bogey on the first hole for a 6-under 65 and the outright lead after the first round. Donald, struggling of late to get off to a good start, had a 66 and was among those one shot behind.
Through it all, Mickelson brought attention to himself for two items that looked out of place.
The day after he took batting practice at Fenway Park and wore a Red Sox jersey while throwing out the first pitch before the Yankees’ 4-2 win, Mickelson wore pinstripes at the TPC Boston.
“Lost a wager with a friend and had to wear these today,” Mickelson said. “What can you say? I’ve got to suck it up and bear it.”
Stranger still was the sight of Mickelson sticking the grip of a long putter into his gut.
Mickelson became the latest to try a belly putter, and while he still missed his share of putts in a round of 70, he sounded as though he was willing to stick with it – at least for the rest of the week.
“I thought it went well,” said Mickelson, who opened with back-to-back birdie putts of just inside 10 feet. “I feel that I’m probably putting better with that putter than I would be the short putter, so I’ll end up using it for the rest of the tournament I would anticipate. But I don’t know if it’s a short term or long term thing. But it feels good.”
Matteson understands the short term.
He is No. 97 in the FedEx Cup standings, knowing that only the top 70 advance to the third event outside Chicago, and that he’d better play well this week or he’ll be heading home for the rest of the playoffs.
His expectations were not terribly high, and they kept sinking when he had a poor session on the practice range, then took bogey on the first hole. It all turned around so suddenly.
“If I don’t play well, then I’m not going to play next week,” he said. “I look at it like the end of the school year. The end of the school year is almost here, so let’s just see what happens. Your expectations probably lower a little bit. Then all of a sudden, you make a few birdies and it’s like, ‘Well, that’s not too bad.’ Then you make a few more.
“By the end of the day, you’re thinking, ‘Gosh, how in the world did that day turn out the way it did?'”
The 65 was his best opening round of the year, and he can only hope it leads to better things. He had a playoff loss in Puerto Rico and only one other top 10 this year.
Matteson was one shot clear of Donald, Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, former PGA champion Y.E. Yang and Jerry Kelly. The group at 67 included Nick Watney, a two-time winner this year, while Dustin Johnson followed his playoff win at The Barclays with a 68 that left him disappointed – he made bogey on both par 5s on his back nine.
Despite having such a stellar year that took him to No. 1 in the world, Donald has been struggling of late to get off to a good start. It looked as though that might be the case again until he made three straight pars saves on the back nine, starting at No. 12, which allowed him to keep his momentum until the end.
“I think it was the putting,” Donald said. “I feel like tee-to-green, I’ve been a lot more solid this year, and even the last few months. The putter has been a little bit cold. It hasn’t been terrible, but just not as good as I would expect. And today was a lot better.”
The biggest gallery of the morning belonged to PGA champion Keegan Bradley, who grew up in the area and was followed along by his father, his famous aunt – LPGA great Pat Bradley – and more friends and family than he could count. The ticket request was so great that he asked for 30 to 50 a day, and turned everything over to his mother.
Bradley opened with a 68, a good performance in front of a hometown crowd.
“It was a little more intense just because I want to play well in front of these guys, in front of my family,” Bradley said. “But I had a good round. I had such a good group today. It was very relaxing.”
Schwartzel has a chance to become the third player in the five-year history of the FedEx Cup to win the $10 million by skipping the first playoff event. Tiger Woods did it in 2007, as did Jim Furyk a year ago, though not on purpose. He overslept and missed his pro-am time, making him ineligible to play The Barclays.
Schwartzel has a big finish to his year, so he wanted some time off. He didn’t think it was the worst idea, especially when an earthquake and hurricane hit New Jersey in the same week.
“I was sitting in South Africa in the sunshine and watching the guys struggle through the hurricane and all the things happening out here,” he said. “In that sense, it was maybe a good choice. But by missing an event, you put yourself back a little bit on the back foot.”
Schwartzel started at No. 21 and slipped to No. 28 by not playing. He doesn’t know all the details of the FedEx Cup, only that a win in any of the opening three events will give him as good a shot as anyone at the big prize.
There wasn’t much movement around the bubble. William McGirt, who barely got into the playoffs and barely made it through to Boston, opened with a 69 and kept alive his hopes of still playing.
Two players whose season ended Friday were Scott Verplank, who has been battling wrist issues all year; and Trevor Immelman, who learned after the round that his wife’s grandfather had died. Both withdrew.