PARAMUS, N.J. — Rory McIlroy took a week to celebrate his blockbuster summer and paid for it in The Barclays with his worst start in two months.
He could afford a day off.
That wasn’t the case for players like Bo Van Pelt and Paul Casey, and they picked a good time to produce good scores.
With no guarantee of playing beyond this week, Van Pelt opened with three straight birdies Thursday and chipped in for eagle late in his round for a 6-under-par 65 that gave him a one-shot lead in the opener of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
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Van Pelt is No. 104 in the FedEx Cup. Only the top 100 advance to the next tournament.
Casey is No. 118 with a lot on his mind — specifically the birth of his first child in two weeks — and played bogey-free at Ridgewood to join seven other players at 66. That group included Brendon Todd, who is trying to get Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson’s attention as a possible wild-card pick; and Hunter Mahan, who at No. 62 is in danger of missing the Tour Championship for the first time since the FedEx Cup began in 2007.
Ridgewood featured some of the deepest rough of the year, though the greens were soft enough to allow for birdies if players could keep it in the fairway. The average score was 70.8, with 44 rounds in the 60s.
McIlroy was not among them.
The British Open and PGA champion went 13 holes before he made his first birdie and finished with a 74. That ended a streak of 14 straight rounds under par, and it was his highest score in the opening round since a 74 in the Irish Open in June.
“Fatigue isn’t playing a part,” he said. “It’s I think just not putting the time in that I probably should have over the past week. And I think I allowed myself that and deserved that. But this is the consequence of it and I need to work hard this afternoon and go out tomorrow and shoot a good number.”
McIlroy established himself anew as golf’s No. 1 player with a wire-to-wire win at the British Open, a come-from-behind win at a World Golf Championship and a late charge at Valhalla to win the PGA Championship and become the third-youngest player with four majors.
“I wanted to enjoy it for a week,” he said.
Jim Furyk, Charles Howell III, Brendon de Jonge, Ben Martin and Cameron Tringale also were in the group one shot behind.
Michael Putnam from University Place and Ryan Moore of Puyallup each shot a 71.
Mahan is the only player to compete in every playoff event since the FedEx Cup began. He is assured of two tournaments, though he needs a good week somewhere to keep alive his hopes of reaching Atlanta for the Tour Championship.
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• Jamie Donaldson of Wales shot a 6-under 66 to take the first-round lead at the Czech Masters in Vysoky Ujezd and boost his chances of securing a spot on the European Ryder Cup team.