NORTON, Mass. (AP) — Harris English had the early lead Thursday in The Northern Trust Open by making the tough stretch at the TPC Boston look easy, just like he has done all year to even get to the PGA Tour’s postseason.
English made consecutive birdies on the 11th and 12th holes with a 5-iron to 8 feet, followed with two long birdie putts to run his streak to four in a row, and finished with a 7-under 64 that gave him a one-shot lead among the early starters.
Tiger Woods finally warmed up with five birdies over his last 10 holes for a 68.
English normally would reason to celebrate just being in the lucrative postseason, which features a pair of $9.5 million purses followed by the $15 million payoff to the winner of the Tour Championship.
He didn’t even have full status at the start of the year, the product of a slump that has kept the former Georgia star without a victory in six years and losing his full card when he missed the playoffs last year for the first time.
He parlayed conditional status into five top 10s before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down golf for three months, and then he resumed his steady play to reach No. 27 in the FedEx Cup when the playoffs began. The top 30 after two events reach the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
Now he’s more interested in where he could be going instead of how far he has come.
”I’m not satisfied with just barely being inside the Tour Championship,” he said. ”I want to make a move up the ranks and have a chance at lifting the FedEx Cup, which we all think about the whole year. … It’s been a lot of work. But I feel like I’m ready for it to jump up and have a chance at winning some tournaments.”
Conditions could not have been more ideal for scoring, a glorious New England summer day with ample sunshine and a gentle breeze. English set the tone early by holing a sand wedge from 97 yards for eagle on the second hole, followed by a pair of birdies.
A good start was far more important for the guys chasing him. Oosthuizen is No. 99 in the FedEx Cup, while Hoffman is at No. 111 and Pierce at No. 119. Only the top 70 advance to next week at the BMW Championship, and they all likely need something around 15th place or better to move on.
Oosthuizen and his sweet swing barely made it to East Lake last year. Now he has work to do, and he brought a different style of playing knowing that.
”I need a good week to get to next week, and then I need an even better week to get to Atlanta,” he said. ”It’s a little more attack in the game, a little bit more aggressive. I think by Sunday you’ll know exactly in what position you are, and it might be a case of going at pins that you might not normally do. But up until Sunday, I think I’m just going to play the normal game see where I’m at when I get there.”
Justin Thomas, the No. 1 seed, opened with a 68. Collin Morikawa, in his first start since winning the PGA Championship, twice made bogey on par 5s and had a 71, leaving him outside the cut line – rare territory for him – going into Friday.
Woods is at No. 49 and hopes to play four out of the next five weeks, taking him to East Lake and through the U.S. Open. He didn’t make a birdie until his ninth hole, but finished with the five birdies over the last 10 holes. Woods went back to his old putter – the one he has used for 14 of his 15 major championships. His bigger issue was getting it close enough to have reasonable birdie chances. Those came at the end.
Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, was in danger of missing the BMW Championship for the first time since the FedEx Cup began in 2007. He came in at No. 67 and opened with a 74.