NORTON — Mistaken for others, attempting to emulate somebody else, Seung-Yul Noh has spent the majority of his rookie season on the PGA Tour traveling the country with his older sister, watching movies in his spare time, and searching for decent Korean restaurants.
He’s sprinkled in some good golf every once in a while. He’s had to, or else he wouldn’t be one of the 98 players competing in the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston. One thing Noh hadn’t done — until now — was hold the lead after any round of a PGA Tour event. He can cross that off his to-do list, nine birdies and nine pars giving him a sizzling 62 on Friday and a one-stroke lead over Chris Kirk.
Only 21, Noh was born and raised in South Korea, influenced by such native sons as K.J. Choi and Y.E. Yang. But he grew up truly idolizing only one player.
“I think every junior golfer’s hero is Tiger [Woods],” Noh said. “That’s why him over Jack Nicklaus, still playing good. He’s best in the world, so that’s why I catch up to him.”
He’ll have a long way to go to catch Woods’s accomplishments, but Noh is the one being chased by Tiger at the Deutsche Bank Championship, at least so far. Woods opened with 64, his lowest opening round since the 2009 AT&T National, a tournament he went on to win.
Noh has never won, at least not on the PGA Tour. He’s won twice on the Asian Tour, including as a 16-year-old, and has introduced himself to American golf fans — if you were paying attention — with some decent finishes in major championships. He tied for 40th at the 2010 US Open, tied for 28th at that year’s PGA Championship, tied for 30th at the 2011 US Open and British Open, and tied for 21st at this year’s PGA, closing with a 65 at Kiawah’s Ocean Course.
Until Friday, 65 was his lowest round on tour. He’s shot 62 once before, at the 2009 Malaysian Open.
His best finishes this year have come since late April. He started working with swing coach Sean Foley, and put veteran caddie Mike Bestor — who previously worked for Yang, among others — on the bag.
“He works really hard, hits it long, has good touch around the greens,” Bestor said. “He told me he likes it here. He likes big, long courses, because he feels like he has an advantage.”
Working with Foley also has paid off. Of course, spending time learning from the guy who’s serving as teacher to Woods, Hunter Mahan, and Justin Rose can’t be a bad thing.
“He had a great three players, very similar with my golf swing, I think. That’s why I’m going to him,” Noh said. “Sometimes he sends [pictures] by text, like Justin Rose’s swing, and then Hunter, Tiger’s swing sometimes, and then he says, ‘Look at the three guys swing,’ and then think about myself, so that’s a good thing.”
Noh says he frequently gets confused for Kevin Na — “People say, ‘Go Kevin!’ ” — but would certainly make a name for himself if he were to win this week. The first-round leader has gone on to win the Deutsche Bank Championship just twice in nine previous years.
One of those two came in 2006 from Woods, who provided the early fireworks on Friday, putting together a mid-round run that looked like he might flirt with the course record, which Noh narrowly missed (the record is 61, by Mike Weir and Vijay Singh).
Starting his round on No. 10, Woods was 2 under through eight holes when he arrived at the par-5 18th. A two-putt birdie there started a surge that resembled vintage Woods: 12-foot birdie on No. 1, 12-foot birdie on No. 2, 15-foot birdie on No. 3, 4-foot birdie on No. 4, 6-inch birdie on No. 5 after he nearly holed out from the fairway for eagle.
Six consecutive birdies, matching the tournament record. In a flash, he was 8 under par through 14 holes.
“I played really well today. I hit a lot of good shots, and on top of that I putted well at the same time,” Woods said. “It was a nice little combination.”
The birdie streak ended when he missed a 13-foot birdie putt on No. 6 that he started chasing, thinking he had it made. He caught a break on the next tee when his drive on the par-5 seventh sailed way right, hit the cart path, and was headed for the junk when it hit a tree and came straight down, playable. He salvaged par from there, but couldn’t make par on No. 9, closing his round with his only bogey.
“Today was just a nice, solid round,” Woods said. “I hit the ball well enough to probably shoot maybe one or two [better]. I missed a couple little putts out there. But I made my share from outside of 15, 20 feet, as well.”
Woods was tied for third with Ryan Moore and Jeff Overton.
PGA champion Rory McIlroy and Bryce Molder were another shot back at 65.
Kirk’s 63 matched his lowest round on tour, and was highlighted by an eagle on No. 18. Playing in the afternoon, Kirk said the late wave was aided by a slight breeze, because it made some of the longer holes play downwind.
“I had 5-iron into 18 and 6-iron into No. 2, so some of those holes played a lot shorter, some of those scoring holes,” said Kirk, who needed only 23 putts. “These greens are just so perfect here, if you hit it on line, it’s going to go in.”
Noh took 26 putts, but gave himself 16 looks at birdie, which led the field. He’s well-traveled for a 21-year-old, playing two years on the European Tour, and now spending his first season on the PGA Tour, hopscotching the country while based at his uncle’s house in San Diego.
“More easier, America,” he said. “Everything good today: swing, putting, everything. So happy.”