Seung-yul Noh first made a name for himself when he won an Asian Tour event at 17 and then beat K.J. Choi just over a year later in the Malaysian Open. Looking to refine his swing in his first year as a PGA Tour member, a strong collection of names jumped out at him.
Tiger Woods. Hunter Mahan. Justin Rose. All of them were clients of Canadian swing coach Sean Foley, and Noh joined the stable in May.
"He had great three players," Noh said.
The 21-year-old from South Korea was better than all of them Friday in the opening round of the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Never mind that Woods ran off six straight birdies — his longest such streak since the 2005 Masters — for a 7-under 64, his lowest opening round in three years. Noh took aim at the TPC Boston in the afternoon and put together a bogey-free round of 62 to build a one-shot lead.
He made four straight birdies on the front nine then closed with back-to-back birdies to take the lead over Chris Kirk.
Woods, Jeff Overton and Ryan Moore were another shot back, followed by a group that included Rory McIlroy and Louis Oosthuizen at 65. The conditions were so pure except for a tricky wind that swirled through the trees that the average score was just under 70.
Leading the way was Noh, who missed only two greens and took 26 putts. Noh said the change in his swing was geared toward making him more consistent. He said Foley often will send him photos of Woods, Rose and Mahan for guidance, although their swings are different.
"He's a good kid," Mahan said. "If Foley says, 'Do this 1,000 times,' he'll go home and do it 1,000 times."
And what does Mahan do?
"I'll do it 900 times and then quit," he said with a laugh.
Mahan had reason to smile after a 68, which could not have come at a better time. He has missed his last two cuts, in the PGA Championship and The Barclays, taking him from a likely captain's pick for the Ryder Cup to on the bubble.
There was a lot going on in Boston, from the FedEx Cup to the Ryder Cup. The top 70 players from the 99-man field will advance to the third stage of the FedEx Cup playoffs next week in Indianapolis, which is a big deal to a guy like Overton. He grew up in Indiana, played for the Hoosiers, and knows Crooked Stick better than anyone in the field. That will be the site of the BMW Championship next week.
Crooked Stick hasn't hosted the best players in the world since John Daly won the 1991 PGA Championship.
Overton is No. 83 in the FedEx Cup, so yes, this was a good start.
"I'm constantly getting a lot of great text messages and people say, 'Hey, we're really excited to see you at Crooked Stick,' just the whole Hoosier nation," Overton said. "It's just going to be fun if I can get into the event."
On a glorious start to Labor Day weekend in New England, it was Woods who supplied the buzz.
Woods hit a full swing, flop shot behind the 12th green to a few feet away to save par, the only time he was seriously in trouble. He hit a high cut with a 5-iron to a tough pin on the par-3 11th for birdie from 15 feet, and he holed an 18-foot birdie on the 13th.
The streak began with a 6-iron to the middle of the 18th green for a two-putt birdie. He rolled in birdie putts from the 12-foot to 18-foot range on the next three holes, and while he nearly holed out with a wedge on No. 5, his best work came at the 293-yard fourth hole.
Woods can reach the green with a 3-wood, but he felt the wind gust into his face, and opted for a driver, playing for a baby cut to take off some distance and get it into the front bunker for a relatively easy up-and-down. Instead, it came a yard short of the sand, and he had to play a high flop to a tiny section of the green that ran away from him.
"I had to play an all-out shot to try to keep it on the green," he said. "I went for it, and it came off."
His bid for a seventh straight birdie — the last time he had a streak that long was the third round at the 2005 Masters that carried into Sunday morning — was a 12-footer up the hill on the sixth hole. He took a step toward the hole as the ball was a foot away, sure it was going to drop, before stopping in his tracks as the ball turned slightly to the left. Woods spun around and removed his cap in disbelief.
As many as he was making, perhaps it was a shock to see one miss.
"Unfortunately, it just wiggled about a half-ball left, where I thought it was going to wiggle about a half-ball right," he said.
The round ended on a sour note, with a 7-iron as the wind briefly died. The ball went into the collar of the green, sitting down just enough that he tried to swing hard enough to generate speed and spin the ball. It didn't work out, and the chip ran 12 feet by. He missed for his only bogey, and tossed his putter at the bag in disgust. Anyone who had not seen the previous 17 holes might have thought it was another tough day at the office.
Instead, it was his lowest score since a 64 in the opening round of the 2009 AT&T National at Congressional.
Getting off to a good start is nothing new for Woods. This was the 14th time in 18 tournaments this year that he was at par or better. Lately, it's been about the finishes. Even though Woods has won three times this year — the most of anyone on the PGA Tour — he has turned in some peculiar weekends. Twice he was tied for the lead at majors going into the final two rounds and stumbled. Last week at Bethpage Black, he had a 72-76 weekend to drop into the middle of the pack.
Woods doesn't seem bothered by all this. He attributed last week to extreme conditions on the greens at Bethpage in the third round, and a final round that simply got away from him on a three-hole stretch on the back nine.
"It wasn't like I was hitting a lot of awful shots," he said. "I just needed a couple putts to go my way, and it didn't happen. I should be right around par, and it turns into an over-par round. Today was about the same as I have been playing pretty much all summer, just go out there and playing pretty consistent. It was just a nice, solid round."