Second-ranked Rory McIlroy finds himself in a familiar spot in the PGA Tour playoffs, on top.
McIlroy (pictured), who has won the FedEx Cup a record three times including last year, shot a bogey-free, five-under-par 65 in the first round of the BMW Championship and is tied for the lead with eighth-ranked Brian Harman on the North Course at Olympia Fields Country Club just outside Chicago.
Play was delayed for two hours at the start because of overnight and early-morning rain which softened the course and allowed the golfers to play lift, clean and place in the fairways, but good weather is predicted for the rest of the weekend.
The top 50 players in the FedEx Cup standings after the FedEx St. Jude Classic last week qualified for the second round of the playoffs, with only the top 30 reaching the Tour Championship next week at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, where the 2023 FedEx Cup champion will be crowned.
“Hitting only three fairways today and coming up with 65 is a bit of a bonus,” said McIlroy, who tied for third in the FedEx St. Jude Championship last week and entered this week at third in the FedEx Cup point standings. “It wasn’t nearly and difficult hitting out of the rough and the deep stuff because of that.
“With the golf course being so soft, it’s almost an advantage to be playing out of the rough going into some of these greens because you know the ball is going to spin and stop. I’m not saying I was trying to aim for the rough, but on a lot of those tee shots I was just being super aggressive, because I knew in the back of my mind I wasn’t really going to being penalized for it.
“And then I made that chip shot on No. 17, which was a huge bonus, a nice one to make a great way to basically finish off the round.”
McIlroy, who won the Dubai Desert Classic and the Genesis Scottish Open earlier this season to give him 24 victories on the PGA Tour and 37 as a pro, made five birdies in his round, including the chip-in from 40 feet on the 17th hole.
Harman, playing his best golf since winning the 151st Open Championship by an incredible six strokes at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in last month in Hoylake, England, gained his share of the lead by sinking a 42-foot eagle putt at No. 16 and chipping in from 32 feet on the next hole in his 65.
“It’s great to get back out here and be in the mix again,” said Harman, who has won five times as a pro, including three times on the PGA Tour. “I went home after winning at Royal Liverpool and virtually celebrated for a couple of weeks. It’s such an incredible high to win the Open Championship, that it’s hard to come back down to earth.
“I didn’t do much work in between the Open and Memphis. I was pretty rusty last week. I knew I was probably going to struggle. I just tried to manage my expectations, but I hit some good shots last week, but I felt like the nuts and bolts of it were still there. I was able to come back today and play pretty well, make big putts and chip in twice for birdies.
“I had a nice day today and we’ll see what tomorrow is like.”
Top-ranked Scottie Scheffler made four birdies in five holes on the back nine to card a 66 and is in a big tie for third that includes 10th-ranked Matt Fitzpatrick of England, who also had four birdies on the back nine; Sahith Theegala of Chino Hills and Pepperdine, who holed his second shot from 147 yards for an eagle at No. 14; Rickie Fowler of Murrieta, who had three birdies on each nine; Wyndham Clark, the reigning U.S. Open champion, who made three straight birdies to start the back nine, and Chris Kirk, who had three straight birdies through No. 17.
Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal carded a bogey-free 67 to tie for ninth with Cameron Young, the 2021-22 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, who birdied four of the first six holes, and Corey Conners of Canada, who had three birdies on the front nine.
Fourth-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA, the two-time BMW defending champion, made four birdies down the stretch for a 68 and is in a tie for 12th that includes third-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain, the FedEx Cup points leader at the start of the week, who had three birdies on the front nine, and seventh-ranked Max Homa of Valencia and Cal, who made his third birdie on No. 17.
Fifth-ranked Viktor Hovland of Norway birdied the first two holes en route to a 69 and is tied for 18th, while Lucas Glover, who won the Wyndham Championship and the FedEx St. Jude Championship the last two weeks, is tied for 23rd at 70, and sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State made two late bogeys that dropped him to a 71 and is tied for 30th.
For complete results, second-round tee times and the FedEx Cup standings, visit: https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard