Sabbatini attacks defenseless Westchester

Sabbatini attacks defenseless Westchester

Rory Sabbatini shot 63 on Thursday.
Travis Lindquist/Getty Images

HARRISON, N.Y.(AP) — The FedEx Cup logos were seemingly everywhere, the biggest ones painted on the grass like in a football end zone.

The PGA Tour’s public-relations machine was in full force Thursday for the start of golf’s new playoffs, but instead of a tense World Series or NCAA basketball tournament atmosphere, the first round of The Barclays lacked a sense of urgency and importance.

It was more Monday outing than Super Bowl Sunday. More Bob Hope Chrysler Classic than U.S. Open. More of the same than something special.

With players attacking the rain-softened greens like Johnny Miller in one of those 1970s desert runaways, the Westchester Country Club course yielded its lowest first-round scoring average – 70.92 – since the tour starting tracking that stat in 1983.

“It’s playing easy right now,” said Rory Sabbatini, the leader at 8-under 63. “There’s no wind. … It’s pretty much shooting darts at the flags.”

Rich Beem and K.J. Choi opened with 64s on the course where Padraig Harrington and Vijay Singh won the last two years with 10-under totals.

“I’d say that the conditions were very optimal for scoring,” Beem said.

Sabbatini, the South African as well known this year for his barbs and challenges directed at Tiger Woods as his solid all-around game, hasn’t put much thought into the FedEx Cup, other than that it’s four more chances to win.

“I’ve never been in it for the money,” Sabbatini said. “I’m a competitor. I want to win any time I tee the ball up. That’s how I am. This doesn’t change anything.”

Two-time Westchester winner Ernie Els, two strokes back at 65 along with Brian Gay, Steve Flesch and Carl Pettersson, was as relaxed as ever in a round that featured eagles on the par-5 fifth and ninth holes. The Big Easy even stopped for lunch at the turn when play backed up in his afternoon round.

“Walked off nine and I had Angel (Cabrera) and his group on the tee and they were still waiting for the green,” Els said. “I knew it was going to be at least 15, 20 minutes and I was starting to feel a little shaky.”

He’s also a little shaky on the whole golf playoff concept.

“I’m a foreigner,” the Big Easy said. “I don’t know anything about your playoff system. We play World Cup rugby or World Cup cricket. That’s the playoffs I know about. So to bring that into golf is kind of weird. So, I’m just taking it as it comes.”

Sabbatini did the most taking Thursday.

A playoff loser to Sergio Garcia in the 2004 tournament, Sabbatini had eight birdies in his bogey-free round. No. 6 in the playoff standings, he won the Colonial and has four other top-three finishes this year, including second-place ties in the Masters and Bridgestone Invitational.

“It has been a great year,” Sabbatini said. “You can look at it that way, but at the same time, it’s been a frustrating year because I’ve given myself a lot of good opportunities to win golf tournaments and haven’t got the job done. So in a sense, it’s been a little bit of a disappointment because of that.”

Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson, playing in New York for the first time since his 72nd-hole meltdown last year in the U.S. Open at nearby Winged Foot, also got off to strong starts, while Singh struggled in his title defense.

Scott and Mickelson joined Mark Calcavecchia, Steve Stricker, Jerry Kelly, Arron Oberholser and Brett Quigley at 67.

“The scores will come slowly, but the confidence in my game is there,” said Mickelson, fully recovered from a left wrist injury.

Singh, No. 2 in the standings and just 1,000 points behind the absent Woods after the points were re-set following the regular season, shot a 75.

The three-time Westchester winner had a four-putt double bogey on the par-3 14th and was 6 over after 11 holes. After one of his bogeys, a young fan rubbed it in as Singh walked by, saying: “Nice bogey, Vijay.”

At No. 134, Beem is fighting to simply advance to the next event. The top 120 after The Barclays will be eligible for the Deutsche Bank Championship next week in Norton, Mass. The field will then be cut to 70 for the BMW Championship in Lemont, Ill., and to 30 for the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta.

“If I don’t play well this week, I have to take a vacation, which I don’t really want to take,” said Beem, the 2002 PGA Championship winner.

The FedEx Cup winner will receive a $10 million deferred prize.

“It’s not like we’re going for $10 million in cash. Big difference,” Els noted. “We’ve got to wait for this cash until you’re 65. Big difference.”

Divots: The tournament winner will receive $1.26 million from the $7 million purse, and 9,000 of the available 50,000 FedEx Cup points. … No. 3 Jim Furyk opened with a 70 playing alongside Mickelson and Singh. … Davis Love III shot a 69 a week after a kidney stone forced him to skip his title defense in the Wyndham Championship. … Gay took only 20 putts in 66. … Eighty players were at par or better.

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