The wind was up Thursday at Liberty National, whipping off the New York Harbor and across the Jersey City course with very few trees for protection.
The conditions hardly led you to expect a pair of 8-under 63s to be setting the pace after the opening round of the Northern Trust, the first leg of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs.
But there were Jon Rahm, the No. 1 ranked player on the world who hadn’t teed it up in tournament play since the U.S. Open in June, and Justin Thomas, whose form has been inconsistent for much of the season, posting the day’s best scores in the afternoon when the wind was strongest.
“It’s extremely difficult,’’ Rahm said. “The fact that me and Justin shot a low score like that it shows it’s possible, but we both played really, really good golf. I felt like I played great. If it ever looked easy, it’s due to ball striking.
“If the wind stays up like this, let’s not expect everybody or all of us to be shooting 8-under every single day because that’s just not going to happen.’’
Rahm, who was forced to withdraw from the Olympics after testing positive for COVID-19 for the second time, and Thomas are trailed by Harold Varner III, who’s 5-under, and Adam Scott, Tony Finau, Mackenzie Hughes, Cameron Tringale, Kevin Na and Robert Streb, all at 4-under.
In all, 51 of the 121 players in the field shot below par, impressive considering the wind.
“Scores are out there,’’ Rahm said. “I think we just showed it. That’s mainly due to the fact of the softness of the greens. It probably felt a lot tougher within us than it appeared outside, but at the end of the day, when you’re striking it well, it’s going to seem easier.
“I can put it in the fairway. From the fairway, you can be aggressive. You can hit it as low as you want into the wind, and that ball is going to stop on the green. I think that’s, again, the advantage of using the wind to your advantage.’’
Rahm’s performance seemed perhaps most surprising considering the long layoff from tournament play.
“I was honestly thinking there will be some rust to get rid of, and there was a little bit,’’ Rahm said. “It’s even hard to say because those first five holes or six holes, even though I was 2-under par, it was very close to being a very different story. That chip-in on 3, if it doesn’t hit the hole, I’m looking for a 40-footer for par. Made a great up and down on 4 and 5.
“I guess that’s why you practice the short game because that is three holes I stole a couple shots and got really full of confidence, hit a couple of good putts, and just took off running.’’
Scott, who finished second at the Wyndham Championship last week, believes he has a score to settle this week. Scott is still smarting from a 5-foot putt he missed to eliminate him from the playoff last week.
“I’m very disappointed I didn’t win that tournament,’’ he said. “I gave myself about as good a chance as you could possibly have, and I do pride myself on the fact that there haven’t been many putts to win a tournament that I haven’t made when I’ve had that chance, and that’s a pretty short one to miss. So, I mean, a little embarrassing.
“I’ve really struggled to get my game in the shape to contend at that level out here this year, and finally it was feeling that way. Importantly, I wanted to bring it here this week, and so far I have. So that outweighs the disappointment — the encouragement of where tee to green I feel like I’m going is really good. But I’m running out of weeks to put that to use, so I’d better play well.’’
Phil Mickelson shot a 2-over-par 73. … Patrick Reed withdrew from the tournament before his first round citing an ankle injury. … Bryson DeChambeau shot an even-par 71 and his nemesis Brooks Koepka shot a 1-under 70.
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