JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Kevin Stadler teed off just after breakfast and finished right before dinner. It took him nearly 11 hours to complete a 7-under 64 at Liberty National, his lowest score on the PGA Tour since the first week of February. And he still isn’t guaranteed to be the first-round leader at The Barclays.
The FedEx Cup playoffs got off to a soggy start Thursday with two rain delays that lasted six hours.
Davis High graduate Nick Watney survived the long day with a 3-under 68 that put him in a tie for 14th.
His round matched the inconsistent tone of the day as it included seven birdies and four bogeys to go with just seven pars. Twice the former Blue Devil made three birdies in the span of four holes.
Stadler. meanwhile, ran off three birdies early, then returned from the second delay and threw in four more birdies on a soft golf course.
Asked if it was difficult to stay mentally prepared during the start-again, stop-again day on the bank of the Hudson River, Stadler replied, “I’m never really mentally prepared. Same as usual. It was all good.”
Tiger Woods, the No. 1 player in the world and in this playoff series, came out of the first delay by missing a short birdie putt on the par-5 13th and then rolling in three straight birdies to get into the mix. He cooled slightly after the slightly longer second delay, and failed to make birdie on any of the par 5s in his round of 67.
Woods didn’t mind the long day. He was more concerned about the next long day on the horizon.
Only the top half of the draw finished the round. The later starters — Ben Crane played only two holes — were to resume the round Friday morning and then go straight to the second round. That left the top half facing extra holes on Saturday to get the tournament caught up.
“We’re done,” Woods said. “It was a long day, and (Friday) will be a short one. And then Saturday will be pretty much a marathon.”
British Open champion Phil Mickelson and Masters champion Adam Scott were among those who didn’t finish. PGA champion Jason Dufner had a 71, while U.S. Open champion Justin Rose recovered from a double bogey on the par-5 13th for a 68.
Camilo Villegas, who started the season with conditional status and is No. 110 in the FedEx Cup standings, ran off four straight birdies around the turn and was the only player to reach 8-under — for now — until back-to-back bogeys late in his round. He had a 65, along with Henrik Stenson and Ryan Palmer.
“Three breakfasts, three warm-ups, two lunches and a bunch of birdies, which is good,” Villegas said.
Jason Day and Matt Kuchar shot 66. Day made two bogeys that kept a good round from getting away from him. His ball dropped over the rocks and into the water to the left of the fifth green, and he got up-and-down from there. On his closing hole, the par-4 ninth, his drive went deep into the bushes and forced him to take a penalty drop. He got onto the green and made another bogey.
The rain allowed for some low scoring at Liberty National, which hosted The Barclays in 2009 and produced a winning score of 9 under. The course also went through significant changes to soften some of the landing zones and green complexes. Plus, there is virtually no rough.
Nothing allows for low scoring quite like soft conditions, however. Nearly half of those who finished their rounds shot in the 60s.
That group might have included Rory McIlroy, except for a few loose swings. He had three double bogeys and still managed a 71. McIlroy blasted out of a bunker and over the 15th green. His approach found the water on No. 5. And his tee shot on the ninth took a wicked kick off the cart path, over the bushes and a fence and out-of-bounds.
“The rest of it was actually pretty good,” he said.
Stadler needed a good start. He hasn’t had a top 10 since New Orleans in late April, and he started these playoffs at No. 87. Only the top 100 advance to the second tournament next week outside Boston, and the top 70 from there go on to the third event in Chicago.
“I’ve had a pretty lousy summer, but really started hitting the ball a lot better a couple of weeks ago and was looking forward to playing some golf again here recently,” he said. “Finally got something out of it (Thursday).”
Stadler has not played in any of the World Golf Championship and only one of the majors — the PGA Championship, where he missed the cut — so this event feels like a big one. It also happens to have arguably the strongest and deepest field on the PGA Tour, particularly since everyone earned a spot based on this year’s play.
“All those guys are here this week, so in that regard, it’s pretty cool,” he said. “But it’s just another week.”
Stenson last year started the FedEx Cup playoffs at No. 117 and was gone after one week. He is one of the hottest players in golf, having been runner-up at the British Open, the Bridgestone Invitational and he was third at the PGA Championship. He is No. 9 in the standings this year, and his 65 on a long Thursday showed why.
“I came in from Europe on Monday night, so I’m a bit jet-lagged and I only saw the course once,” Stenson said. “I’m very pleased with the way I played out there and took advantage of some good shots. And it was a little bit of a shaky finish.”
He missed a short par putt on the par-5 eighth hole and had to make a 6-footer for par on the last.
“Got some good practice of night golf, because that’s what we are going to have (Friday) night when we start our second round, I guess,” he said.