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Troy Matteson, trying to avoid elimination, opens with a 65 for early lead in Boston
Matteson is No. 207 in the world ranking. What matters more this time of the year is that he's No. 97 in the FedEx Cup standings, knowing that he'll be out of the playoffs if he doesn't play well at the TPC Boston.
He went to the practice range and hit the ball so poorly he figured he would be doing well to break 80. From the fairway on his first hole, he hit it so poorly that his ball came up some 75 feet short and led to a bogey. Before long, he was making birdies from everywhere on his way to a 6-under 65 that gave him a one-shot lead Friday.
"Pretty interesting round for me with how I was going into the day," Matteson said.
Donald is No. 1 in the world, where he has been all summer. He is No. 5 in the FedEx Cup standings, assured of being at East Lake for a shot at the $10 million prize. For some reason, he has broken 70 in the opening round on the PGA Tour only once since The Players Championship in May.
He fixed that Friday with six birdies in 11 holes to challenge for the lead, then made sure he didn't let the round get away from him when he saved par with putts of 6 feet, 12 feet and 5 feet on three straight holes on his way to a 66.
"It's always nice to get off to a good start," Donald said. "I think the last couple events, I haven't played that great the first round and have been playing catch up. So it's nice to post 5 under. I'm in great position."
Donald attributed this to his short game ' which led to missing the cut at the British Open. That wasn't an issue in the afternoon, as the greens of the TPC Boston began to get firm under a full day of blazing sunshine.
"The last month or so, I haven't made those putts when I needed to, and today I did," Donald said. "And that was really the difference between 5 under and maybe 2 under and being back in the pack. It's nice to see the putter warming up a little bit."
Donald was joined by Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, former PGA champion Y.E. Yang and Jerry Kelly. Nick Watney was among those another shot behind at 67. Dustin Johnson, who won the playoff opener last week at The Barclays, took bogey on two par 5s that he could reach in two and still managed a 68.
It's no surprise that putters were all the rage at the TPC Boston. That's usually the case no matter where a tournament is held.
The oddity at the Deutsche Bank Championship was seeing Phil Mickelson with a belly putter.
And he was wearing pinstripes in Boston, no less. This came one day after Mickelson wore a Red Sox jersey while throwing out the first pitch at Fenway Park before the Yankees' 4-2 win.
"Lost a wager with a friend and had to wear these today," Mickelson said. "What can you say? I've got to suck it up and bear it."
Even so, the strangest sight was Mickelson sticking the grip of a long putter into his gut.
Mickelson became the latest to try a belly putter, and while he still missed his share of putts in a round of 70, he sounded as though he was willing to stick with it ' at least for the rest of the week.
"I thought it went well," said Mickelson, who opened with back-to-back birdie putts of just inside 10 feet. "I feel that I'm probably putting better with that putter than I would be the short putter, so I'll end up using it for the rest of the tournament I would anticipate. But I don't know if it's a short term or long term thing. But it feels good."
The biggest gallery of the morning belonged to PGA champion Keegan Bradley, who grew up in the area and was followed along by his father, his famous aunt ' LPGA great Pat Bradley ' and more friends and family than he could count. The ticket request was so great that he asked for 30 to 50 a day, and turned everything over to his mother.
Bradley opened with a 68, a good performance in front of a hometown crowd.
"It was a little more intense just because I want to play well in front of these guys, in front of my family," Bradley said. "But I had a good round. I had such a good group today. It was very relaxing."
Schwartzel has a chance to become the third player in the five-year history of the FedEx Cup to win the $10 million by skipping the first playoff event. Tiger Woods did it in 2007, as did Jim Furyk a year ago, though not on purpose. He overslept and missed his pro-am time, making him ineligible to play The Barclays.
Schwartzel has a big finish to his year, so he wanted some time off. He didn't think it was the worst idea, especially when an earthquake and hurricane hit New Jersey in the same week.
"I was sitting in South Africa in the sunshine and watching the guys struggle through the hurricane and all the things happening out here," he said. "In that sense, it was maybe a good choice. But by missing an event, you put yourself back a little bit on the back foot."
Schwartzel started at No. 21 and slipped to No. 28 by not playing. He doesn't know all the details of the FedEx Cup, only that a win in any of the opening three events will give him as good a shot as anyone at the big prize.
There wasn't much movement around the bubble. William McGirt, who barely got into the playoffs and barely made it through to Boston, opened with a 69 and kept alive his hopes of still playing.
Two players whose season ended Friday were Scott Verplank, who has been battling wrist issues all year; and Trevor Immelman, who learned after the round that his wife's grandfather had died. Both withdrew.