Already having his best season, Matt Kuchar got off to his best start of the year Thursday in the BMW Championship. A mystery season for Tiger Woods took another unexpected turn.
Kuchar, who won the opening FedExCup playoff event to position himself for the $10 million bonus, wasted no time putting his name atop the leaderboard. He finished with an 18-foot birdie putt for a 7-under 64 and a one-shot lead over Ryan Moore.
Ian Poulter of England, who has finished in the top 10 only once since winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February, had a 66 for the best round of the afternoon despite opening with a double bogey.
Woods also started with a double bogey, but he never got those shots back.
With one last bogey on the 18th hole, he wound up with a 73 to leave himself in a big hole as he tries to advance to the final stage of the playoffs in Atlanta. It was his highest round at Cog Hill since he opened with a 73 in the 2005 Western Open. It also ended a streak of 11 consecutive rounds in the 60s on the public course in the Chicago suburbs where he has won five times.
Woods should be used to rough starts by now. His scoring average in the first round this year is 71.08, compared with 68.9 a year ago in the same tournaments.
Even so, it was peculiar to hear him discuss how much ground he has to make up -- not against Kuchar, but the finish he needs to get into the top 30 in the FedExCup standings and advance to the Tour Championship.
"As of right now, I'm only five shots back out of that spot," Woods said. "That's not bad."
Everything is good with Kuchar at the moment, except his voice. He is playing so well -- a winner at The Barclays, a tour-high 10 finishes in the top 10 this year -- that there's really nothing left for him to say.
Not that he had a choice. Kuchar has laryngitis and begged off a series of interviews, letting his score speak for itself. It was the second-best start of his career, and the 21st time in 23 events this year that he broke par in the opening round.
"Just keep playing," Kuchar said to one question he felt good enough to answer. "I was driving it well. I was actually doing everything well. It felt very good. Last week was a little bit suspect, and this week I kind of figured some stuff out."
Something clicked for Moore when he least expected it.
Dressed in a black sweater and white golf shirt, with a tie hung loosely around his neck, Moore was 1 over for the round and in a bunker on the 11th. He holed that out for birdie, hit 3-iron to 5 feet for birdie, and after a par, finished with five straight birdies.
"I certainly wasn't expecting to do that," Moore said. "I hit a horrible tee shot on 11 with an even worse lay-up, and then I hit a terrible shot from there into a bunker and then holed out. I don't know. Just got a little positive momentum going from there."
Poulter had to find some quickly. He hit his opening tee shot to the right on the 10th hole, put his approach into a front bunker and then caught that clean and sent it over the green. He missed a 4-foot putt and took double bogey, although it helped that it's about a 250-yard walk to the next tee.
"Nice first round," he said. "Not a very nice first hole, mind you."
Retief Goosen and Charlie Wi were at 67, while the group at 68 included Dustin Johnson, Luke Donald and Justin Rose.
Phil Mickelson, not a fan of Cog Hill, ended with a bogey on the par-5 ninth hole for a 72. Mickelson swapped out playing in the pro-am to do a corporate function, and instead played Butler National on Wednesday, which he raved about.
He was asked if it was harder to play a course for which he has little affection.
"Yes," he replied.
Woods feels the opposite, although that was hard to tell by the way he played. He began by hitting a poor bunker shot, an even worse chip and a bad putt for a double bogey. He missed a 3-foot birdie putt on the ninth. With an iron into the par-5 15th, he hit it well left into a tree and had to settle for par.
"I just didn't have much today," Woods said.
He also was nine shots behind in 2005 when he opened with a 73, and Woods wound up in second place two shots behind. But he was a little more predictable back then. What gave Woods hope is that despite such calm conditions, no one went lower than 64.
"Guys aren't going low at this place because the greens aren't good enough to go low," he said. "Obviously, there's a couple of players that have played well today, but overall, the guys just aren't tearing the place apart."
Woods is No. 51 in the standings, and the top 30 make it to the Tour Championship. He likely needs to finish around fifth place this week to go to East Lake in Atlanta.
The good fortune of Andres Romero appears to have run out. The Argentine birdied four of his last five holes at The Barclays to narrowly advance to the second round, and he tied for 11th in Boston to make it to the third round. He is No. 68 in the standings, but made five bogeys in six holes to start his round and shot 80.