NORTON — For eight months now, Ryan Palmer has had a premonition that something good would happen to him on the golf course and he’d break a PGA Tour winless drought currently sitting at 116 tournament starts.
That sense has taken Palmer through a solo second in January, then a playoff loss in March, then a tie for fifth three weeks ago at the PGA Championship, where he shared the lead after the first round.
He has the lead all to himself now, after rolling in a 15-foot birdie putt on his final hole Friday. Palmer had nine birdies at TPC Boston that gave him an 8-under-par 63, matching his low round of the season and giving him a two-shot lead at the Deutsche Bank Championship over local favorite Keegan Bradley. Jason Day, Webb Simpson, and Chesson Hadley were another shot back at 66.
“It’s been building all year. I keep telling myself something good is going to happen, I don’t know where or when. I’ve felt it for a long time this year, since Hawaii,” Palmer said. “I felt for a while something is on the horizon. Maybe this week, maybe next week. Who knows?”
Hawaii is the site of Palmer’s most recent victory on the PGA Tour, the Sony Open in 2010. Far removed from the tropical island life, Palmer didn’t have any ocean-view distractions to worry about. The way he was putting the ball on Friday, he might not have noticed, anyway.
Palmer took only 21 official putts; tour statistics don’t count a stroke played from the fringe as a putt, even if a putter was used. Either way, Palmer had his magic wand working, one-putting 15 of TPC Boston’s 18 holes.
Only two of those putts, however, were longer than 13 feet, so Palmer’s 63 wasn’t entirely because of his work on the greens. Getting there wasn’t too difficult, at least on this day.
“It was one of my best [rounds] of the year, for sure. To have 21 putts. The way I drove it [11 of 14 fairways]. My iron play, the short game when I needed it,” Palmer said. “I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever had 21 putts in one round, and 15 one-putts.
“It was good. I hit it close when I needed to. I made a few longer ones, too. Just a very calm, calm day out there.”
Maybe for Palmer, but not for everybody. Forty-three of the 93 players in the field failed to break par, a group that included some big names, and others who came into this second of the four FedEx Cup playoff events playing really well. Jim Furyk opened with a 1-over 72, the same score as Bubba Watson, Ernie Els, and Brandt Snedeker. Adam Scott shot 73, matching Barclays winner Hunter Mahan, and one shot better than Phil Mickelson and Brendon Todd.
The player they’re all chasing, Palmer, has a decent record at TPC Boston, but not recently: He missed the cut here the last two years, and tied for 61st in 2011. But he tied for 11th in 2010, and tied for 17th in 2004, when he shared the first-round lead with Tiger Woods.
Having prior success at TPC Boston seemed to be one of the links among those near the top of Friday’s leaderboard. Bradley has gone T13 and T16 here the past two years, while Day was T2 in 2010 and T3 the next year, the year Simpson won. Only Hadley, a PGA Tour rookie making his DBC debut, doesn’t have good previous vibes about this place.
“There’s a huge sense of comfort for guys at certain golf courses, and that’s kind of the big deal,” said Simpson. “Certain courses you see the tee shots better. You see the reads better.”
Said Day: “For some reason, just with previous performances, when you play good in certain places you have good memories coming back. You remember good shots that you hit on certain holes.”
Day’s round was bogey-free, as was Bradley’s. Simpson and Hadley each had a lone bogey on the scorecard.
Palmer did, too, and it came at his first hole of the day, the par-4 10th, when he had to take a penalty stroke after pulling his drive left. As bogeys go, that was a good one, and it set the tone with a one-putt.
He answered with birdies at the next two holes (the par-3 11th played the fourth-toughest on the day, with just four birdies), then ripped off four straight birdies on Nos. 15-18, making the turn in 5-under 30.
Three more birdies were found on the front, at Nos. 2, 5, and 9. The birdie at the fifth was Palmer’s longest made putt of the day — 23 feet.
“I knew if I hit a lot of good shots close I was going to make a few. I’ve been putting good for a while. My short putting has been good. My lag putting has been better,” said Palmer, who is No. 43 on the points list. “The last six months I’ve really felt my putting has been there, it’s a matter of ball-striking backing it up, as well.”
It did on Friday, but now the test only gets more difficult. Holding the first-round lead is a position Palmer has been in seven times before. He’s gone on to win just once, at that 2010 Sony Open.
“It was nice to get an early round like this in,” Palmer said. “Tomorrow is going to be a good day to back it up.”