NORTON — Admittedly, the only area of his game holding Kevin Stadler back has been putting. Ninth on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation? Very good. But 161st in strokes gained-putting? Not very good.
Friday was a pleasant surprise, then, with Stadler one-putting 11 times, and being credited with no putts on the third hole, when he knocked in a 12-footer from the fringe. He needed just 23 putts total, the key to his first-round 64 at the Deutsche Bank Championship, which left Stadler alone in third, one shot behind Phil Mickelson and Brian Davis.
It’s Stadler’s lowest round on tour since closing with a 63 in February at the Phoenix Open. But he said this round was better.
“It was the best round I had this year. In quite a few years, really,” Stadler said. “I kind of got in a groove with the putter. It was fun seeing the ball go in the hole.”
Stadler ended the round in style, closing with four straight birdies, on Nos. 6-9. Mickelson needed to do that to shoot 59. For Stadler, who is trying to play his way into the top 70 on the points list and advance to the next playoff event (he’s 75th), it gave him a solid start.
Five of his eight birdies covered at least 12 feet, including all four in his closing stretch: 29 feet at No. 6, followed by birdie putts of 16, 14, and 20 feet.
“I wish I could say that’s the norm, but it’s far from it. Usually kind of holds me back,” Stadler said. “But it’s been getting better.”
Goal is to break 70
Stadler wasn’t the only player outside the top 70 to make an impressive opening statement. Co-leader Davis holds the best position on the leaderboard, and is now projected to jump from 80th to fourth on the points list.
It’s early, and positions will change dozens of times over the next three days, but according to the projections after the first round, nine players outside the top 70 will play their way into the BMW Championship, based on their Friday scores. Nicholas Thompson (No. 73), Ian Poulter (77th), Stewart Cink (85th), Bob Estes (86th), Jerry Kelly (87th), and Ernie Els (91st) were all tied for seventh, each shooting 66. K.J. Choi (74th) had a 67 and was in a tie for 23d.
Traffic on Route 66
A whopping 16 players shot 66, but only one had a 7 on his scorecard. Chris Kirk overcame a double bogey on No. 18 (his ninth hole) to shoot a second-nine 31, including birdies on three of his next four holes, then on his final two.
“I was in a bad position and it kept getting worse,” Kirk said of the 18th, which played as the easiest hole on Friday, to a 4.530 average. “Somehow I was able to see it with a little bit better attitude than I normally would have and get right back out. Getting one close and making birdies on [Nos.] 1 and 3 and 4, obviously that helps you get over it a little quicker.”
An up-and-down round at TPC Boston is nothing new for Kirk. He opened with a 63 last year, followed with a third-round 75, and was in the process of squandering his spot in the next playoff event until he birdied four of the final five holes in the last round.
Keegan Bradley, who went 63-69 in the final two rounds at last year’s Deutsche Bank Championship to tie for 13th, extended his streak of tournament rounds here under 70 to three after a 69. Followed by Bruin and pro-am partner Shawn Thornton, who was tweeting updates about Bradley’s round for the tournament’s Twitter account, the Vermont native got it to 3 under with birdies at Nos. 8-10, but had two back-nine bogeys.
Worcester native Scott Stallings, who is No. 62 on the points list, opened with 68.
Rarely would someone expect to shoot 66 while hitting only 10 greens in regulation. But Jason Dufner did, thanks to 23 putts, the lowest number by anyone in the first round, tied with Stadler and Matt Kuchar (66). “Probably one of the worst ball-striking days I’ve had this year, but putted really good, so that was the difference,” said Dufner, the PGA champion. “I’m happy to get through the day with a nice number.” . . . There were 11 eagles made in the first round, spread over three holes. Six came at the par-5 second, three at the par-5 18th, and two at the short, driveable par-4 fourth, which measured 298 yards on Thursday. Kevin Chappell (42 feet) and Nick Watney (29 feet) both chipped in from off the green at No. 4 . . . Co-leaders Mickelson and Brian Davis, beware: Of the 36 stroke-play events on tour this season, the first-round leader or co-leader has gone on to win just six times. The last time it happened? In Memphis, the week before the US Open, when Harris English won the FedEx St. Jude Classic . . . Once the European Tour action was over, Golf Channel offered live bonus coverage of the first round, picking up the Tiger Woods-Mickelson-Adam Scott group on No. 5 at 12:10 p.m. Second-round coverage on Saturday is scheduled from 3-6 p.m., also on Golf Channel.Michael Whitmer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.