Red-hot putting helps Palmer set Boston pace
NORTON Massachusetts (Reuters) - American Ryan Palmer, whose putting has been razor sharp for the past six weeks, upstaged some of golf's biggest names as he surged into a two-shot lead at the Deutsche Bank Championship on Friday.
The 37-year-old Texan, seeking a fourth PGA Tour victory, reeled off four successive birdies midway through the opening round and signed off by sinking an 18-foot putt on his final hole for an eight-under-par 63 at the TPC Boston.
While world number one Rory McIlroy squandered a red-hot start with a messy finish to card a 70, Palmer mixed nine birdies with a lone bogey to seize control in the second of the PGA Tour's four lucrative FedExCup playoff events.
Keegan Bradley gave his Ryder Cup prospects a timely boost as he fired an opening 65 to finish a stroke in front of fellow Americans Webb Simpson and Chesson Hadley and Australian Jason Day.
Palmer, however, delivered the day's standout performance, barely missing a putt on a firm TPC Boston layout as he continued to benefit from some advice given to him last month by his compatriot Shawn Stefani.
"It was great," Palmer told Golf Channel after totalling just 21 putts in his round. "I've had this feeling since the Open, the British Open.
"When Stefani was talking about his putting changes, I took a little something from that and it's been great for the last couple of months. My short putting has been phenomenal.
"I am making a lot more putts from inside six feet, I'm not missing many, but then when you get the putts going in from 15 feet and in, especially for birdie, it makes for good days."
Palmer, whose most recent PGA Tour win came at the 2010 Sony Open in Hawaii, conceded that he was a little fortunate with the birdie putt on his final hole, the par-four ninth.
"I knew the way the ball was rolling, it was a matter of just getting it on the right line," he said. "I thought I missed it right but it hung in there so what a way to finish and to start off this tournament."
Bradley, one of six likely contenders vying for the three wildcard selections to be announced by U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson next week, picked up four shots in his first seven holes before ending his round in sizzling birdie-birdie style.
"Making those putts (was key) but I drove the ball really, really well and out here you really need to drive the ball long and straight, and I did that today," Bradley said.
McIlroy, who was dislodged from the top spot in the FedExCup standings when American Hunter Mahan won the opening playoff event, The Barclays, on Sunday, made a storming start on Friday with three birdies in his first four holes.
However, the Northern Irishman failed to maintain that red-hot momentum and stumbled home with three bogeys in his last five holes to finish seven strokes off the pace.
"It was tricky out there," said McIlroy, whose dominant golf in recent weeks earned him three consecutive tournament wins, including major victories at the British Open and the PGA Championship.
"The wind was up, the greens were firmer than they have been since I have been coming here and the rough's a little thicker, so it makes it a little tougher to score.
"I felt good. My game is in decent shape. I holed a couple of nice putts. Overall, shooting something under par today isn't a bad start."
Mahan who enhanced his Ryder Cup claims in resounding fashion by winning his sixth PGA Tour title at The Barclays, failed to replicate that form on Friday as he mixed three bogeys with just one birdie to card a two-over 73.
Among the other big names, Australian world number two Adam Scott opened with a 73, five-times major winner Phil Mickelson carded a roller-coaster 74 and Swede Henrik Stenson launched his title defence with a 70.
The top 70 players on the FedExCup points list after the Deutsche Bank Championship advance to next week's BMW Championship in Englewood, Colorado where the leading 30 will qualify for the Sep. 11-14 Tour Championship finale in Atlanta.
Among those in danger of being eliminated from the playoffs after this week's event are 2012 FedExCup champion Brandt Snedeker, who is 71st in the points standings, and England's former world number one Luke Donald (80th).
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue/Gene Cherry)