Merritt’s 62 Leads DJ by 1 in Northern Trust

Troy Merritt was ahead of all the big names after one round of The Northern Trust, opening event of the FedEx Cup playoffs.

The 33-year-old Merritt, No. 72 in the point standings, posted a bogey-free, 9-under-par 62 to take a one-stroke lead over Dustin Johnson after the first round at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J.

The top 70 in the point standings will advance to the BMW Championship next week at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago, with the top 30 reaching the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.

“We’re in a good position now to contend for the championship,” said Merritt, who had a blood clot removed from his left arm just over a year ago. “That’s why we tee it up each week. Obviously this week, it’s a little bit different with just trying to get into next week … and now we can shift our focus to winning the golf tournament.

“I tended to get a little bit tight at the top of my swing (because of the blood clot), kind of where the rib was. Now I don’t get tight at the top and I can take my time and that usually helps out my tempo, and as a result, the swing’s been a lot better more often.

“ … That putter was hot today and the greens were rolling beautifully and just took advantage of it.”

Merritt, who has won twice on the PGA Tour including the 2018 Barbasol Championship not long before the surgery on his arm, took advantage of the soft conditions on the course to birdie five of his first eight holes after starting at No. 10 and added four birdies coming home on the front.

Johnson, who has won four times in the playoffs and is ranked second in the world, collected four birdies on each nine in his 63, while seventh-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain birdied five straight holes through the turn in a 64 to tie for third with Kevin Kisner, who holed his second shot from 108 yards for an eagle at No. 3.

Third-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, the 2016 FedEx Cup champion sank a 17-foot eagle putt on the 13th hole en route to a 65 and is in a tie for fourth that includes fourth-ranked Justin Rose of England, the defending FedEx Cup champ, who birdied four of the last six hoes.

Tony Finau, who birdied five holes in a row on the front nine, and Webb Simpson, who made five birdies in six holes on the back nine, also are in the tie for fourth at 65.

Patrick Reed carded a bogey-free 66 and is tied for ninth with Danny Willett of England, Max Homa of Valencia and Cal, Chez Reavie, Brian Stuard, Chesson Hadley, Corey Conners of Canada, Russell Knox of Scotland and Patton Kizzire.

Ninth-ranked Justin Thomas, the 2017 FedEx Cup champion, shot 67 and is in a tie for18th that includes 2015 FedEx Cup winner Jordan Spieth, while defending Northern Trust champion and ninth-ranked Bryson DeChambeau of Clovis is tied for 33rd at 68.

Sixth-ranked Francesco Molinari of Italy is tied for 51st at 69, while top-ranked Brooks Koepka, the FedEx Cup points leader, totaled 70 and is in a tie for 65th that includes 10th-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA.

Brandt Snedeker, the 2012 FedEx Cup, is tied for 82nd at 71, while 2014 FedEx Cup champ Billy Horschel finished at 72 and is in a tie for 92nd that includes 2010 FedEx Cup winner, Jim Furyk.

Fifth-ranked Tiger Woods, the FedEx Cup champion in 2007 and 2009, struggled to a 75 while battling a stiff back and is tied for 116th in the 125-man field, which was reduced by two when Aaron Baddeley of Australia and Chris Stroud withdrew because of back injuries.

Henrik Stenson, the 2013 FedEx Cup champ, withdrew from the Northern Trust for the second straight year earlier this week to rest up for Scandinavian Invitational later this month.

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