In his first tournament at No. 1 in the world, Jordan Spieth posted his worst score in three months with a 74.
Bubba Watson saw the whole thing at The Barclays and offered a simple explanation.
"It's golf," Watson said Thursday after a 5-under 65 for a four-way tie for the lead with Tony Finau, Spencer Levin and Camilo Villegas. "It's Atlanta that we are all worried about. You can win these next three tournaments, still not win the FedEx Cup. So Atlanta is where we really need to be peaking."
There's truth to that. Spieth might lose his No. 1 ranking, but he is virtually assured of being among the top five in the FedEx Cup when these three playoff events conclude at East Lake in Atlanta for the Tour Championship. And the top five have a clear shot at the $10 million.
That won't be the case for a dozen or more players at Plainfield Country Club who struggled in the opening round. Their season could end Friday.
Only the top 100 in the FedEx Cup advance to the next playoff event at the TPC Boston. From there, the top 70 move on to Chicago for the third tournament before the top 30 assemble in Atlanta for the finale.
None of this was much consolation for Spieth. He said it had been years that he played so bad from the middle of the fairway.
"Just lost a little bit of focus," Spieth said. "All in all, I'm just going to take today as a fluke round. I still believe I'm playing well. It just happened to be an off day on a day where it counted."
Here's how the second round is shaping up:
EARLY END: Erik Compton's season ended on Thursday. He was at No. 122 in the FedEx Cup, didn't show up until Wednesday night because of a respiratory infection and thought he would give it a try. "A bad decision," he said. The two-time heart transplant recipient withdrew, knowing he wasn't going to advance. As for his health?
"I felt like I walked out of the emergency room and teed it up," he said.
Others will join him Friday unless they turn it around quickly. Eight players outside the top 100 in the FedEx Cup start Friday outside the cut line. That list includes Jonas Blixt and Carlos Ortiz, Graham DeLaet and Luke Donald.
Charl Schwartzel might not be safe. He is at No. 96 in the FedEx Cup and opened with a 72.
BLAST AND RUN: A popular slogan in golf over the last decade is "bomb and gauge," meaning power players are happy to hit driver even if it goes in the rough because they are closer to the green and stand a good chance to gouge out a wedge and putt for birdie.
That's how it looked at Plainfield Country Club, with a twist.
Depending on the pin position, playing from the rough wasn't a bad spot to be. The key is to putt from below the hole. That often meant flying a shot at least to the hole, usually past it, and then having it spin back. Spieth hit a sand wedge just short on the 15th and saw it spin back some 35 feet.
Watson played out of the rough without spin and was able to run the ball toward the hole to a foot.
"After watching the two guys spin it back, I'm like, 'Oh, I'm actually bad but good,'" Watson said. "And so yes, that's what me and Teddy (caddie Ted Scott) have talked about this week — hitting drive so that you can be bad but good at the same time."
GOOD STRESS: Camilo Villegas and Spencer Levin are outside the top 100 in the FedEx Cup, so it would seem they are under pressure to play well.
Or maybe not.
Last Sunday, Villegas wasn't sure he would be at The Barclays until he closed with a 68 to make it (No. 123) with two shots to spare. Levin was trying to hang on and shot 63 to secure his spot. Both said they are simply relieved to have made it to the playoffs, which means they are guaranteed a full tour card for next year.
Anything more is gravy.
"This is a nice stress to have," Levin said. "I'm happy with where I am right now and who knows? Maybe I can keep it going."
SPIETH'S MISSION: Jordan Spieth has a history of playing good when he gets mad. Bogeys often are followed by birdies.
So what does he do after a 74 that puts him in a tie for 95th in a 120-man field?
"Do what I've done best. Bounce back," he said.
He hasn't missed the cut since The Players Championship. Since then, Spieth has won twice, had two runner-up finishes and been in the top 10 in all but one of his eight starts.