Troy Merritt isn’t obsessed with his position in the FedEx Cup and what he needs to advance in the PGA Tour’s postseason. He figures the best solution is good golf, and he delivered his best round of the year Thursday in The Northern Trust.
Merritt began with a 10-foot par save, followed with a pair of 20-foot birdie putts and took advantage of calm, rain-softened Liberty National by tying the course record with a 9-under 62 for a one-shot lead over Dustin Johnson.
It wasn’t a career low — Merritt twice has shot 61 on the PGA Tour — but it might have been his best round hardly anyone saw.
The storm was so fierce on the eve of the FedEx Cup playoffs opener that the public was not allowed in until 10 a.m., nearly three hours after the round began. And when the fans arrived, most of them were watching the action — what little there was — two groups behind him with Tiger Woods.
Woods, in only his third round since the U.S. Open, made double bogey on the shortest hole on the course, three-putted from 15 feet and had three bogeys from the fairway in a listless round of 75. Along with being 13 shots out of the lead, he was in danger of missing the cut for the first time in the FedEx Cup playoffs, which also would jeopardize a return to East Lake for the Tour Championship.
Johnson ran off four straight birdies near the end of his round for a 63, a good start in a tournament he already has won twice.
Kevin Kisner and Jon Rahm were at 64, while the group at 65 included Rory McIlroy and the suddenly hot Webb Simpson, who posted his sixth straight round of 65 or better dating to the final round of the FedEx St. Jude Invitational two weeks ago.
The wind arrived in the afternoon, slowing the onslaught of low scores, with no round better than the 66 by Justin Rose.
Merritt is No. 72 in the FedEx Cup, with the top 70 advancing next week to the BMW Championship at Medinah. Points are quadrupled in the postseason.
Brooks Koepka, who has won four majors in the last three years, still hasn’t found his groove in the FedEx Cup. Koepka is the No. 1 seed. In 15 playoffs events, he has managed only two top 10s — his best is sixth place at the Tour Championship two years ago — and he didn’t get off to a great start at Liberty National with only three birdies in his round of 70. Either way, he’s assured of being in East Lake.