LAKE FOREST, Ill. – For all the improvements over the years in golf, from fitness to technology to better coaching, golf still comes down to makes the most putts. That explains why Brandt Snedeker was thrilled with his 8-under 63 in the BMW Championship.
And it explains why Tiger Woods was so perturbed with a 66.
Snedeker ran off seven straight birdies — three of them from just off the green — and felt so good that his final birdie in that streak from 18 feet looked like a tap-in. He wound up with a one-shot lead over Zach Johnson at Conway Farms.
Woods, meanwhile, was still bothered by missing three short putts on his back nine that ruined and otherwise good day in blustery conditions. He missed a pair of 3-footers for par (both of them turned into three-putt bogeys) and a 5-foot birdie putt.
This is the third of the four playoff events for the FedEx Cup, with the top 30 players in the standings advancing to the Tour Championship next week for a chance at the $10 million bonus. There is no cut at the BMW Championship, so all 70 players are guaranteed three more rounds.
Here are five things worth noting going into Friday's second round:
1. SNEDEKER ON A ROLL: Brandt Snedeker was one of the hottest players in golf at the start of the year before an old rib injury returned. He was runner-up in consecutive weeks to Woods (Torrey Pines) and Phil Mickelson (Phoenix) before winning Pebble Beach.
Maybe he's on the start of another roll. He certainly was on the golf course by running off seven straight birdies, starting at No. 13 and ending at No. 1.
"You get on runs like that, you get excited for the next hole because you know something good is going to happen, because you're in such a good frame of mind and everything is going in the right direction," Snedeker said.
In this case, everything was going in — a 15-foot putt from the fringe on the 13th, another 15-footer on the next hole when he used the blade of his sand wedge to bump the ball out of the short rough, and a 40-footer from the fringe on the 17th stood out to him.
2. TRACKING TIGER: Woods opened with a 66, matching his lowest opening round on the PGA Tour this year. The other two times he shot 66 in the first round, he went on to win at Doral and Firestone. This one left him frustrated because of the three missed putts from short range over his last five holes.
"I'm not exactly real happy," Woods said. "I played well, and I just didn't get much out of that round. I missed three little short ones in there and then played the par 5s even par. That's just not very good."
He at least managed the low score in his group of the 1-2-3 players from the FedEx Cup standings. Deutsche Bank Championship winner Henrik Stenson shot a 72, while Barclays winner Adam Scott had a 67.
3. CONWAY FARMS: All eyes were mostly on Conway Farms, the Tom Fazio design north of Chicago hosting the world's best players for the first time. Everyone predicted low scoring, and there was plenty of evidence with Snedeker at 63 and 16 other rounds in the 60s. But the course is notorious for its wind, and it was plenty blustery in the opening round. Rory McIlroy had a 78, an injured Lee Westwood had an 80.
Just under half the field shot over par. The average score was 71.3, meaning Conway Farms acquitted itself just fine.
4. PHIL MICKELSON: Phil Mickelson stood on the first tee Thursday afternoon having never seen Conway Farms. He did not arrive until Wednesday night, excused from the pro-am because of personal reasons.
Mickelson chose not to share those reasons. When asked if it was a family matter, he said, "Everything is fine. I'm here now, I'm ready to play. But I just needed to be a little cautious this first round before I attack it tomorrow."
5. MOVING UP, MOVING DOWN: The top 30 players in the FedEx Cup advance to the Tour Championship, and it's not looking good for Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood. McIlroy is at No. 41 and needs to finish about seventh. He made double bogey on his second hole — his ninth double bogey of the FedEx Cup playoffs — and then made a triple bogey after making the turn on his way to a 77.
Westwood is ailing, massaging his back and ribs on his way to an 80. He is No. 30 and mostly likely will be bumped.
There's still a long way to go, but John Merrick and Nick Watney got off to good starts with 67s. Both are outside the top 30.