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Harris English sets the pace in Round 1 of the Northern Trust

Harris English birdied four straight holes, Nos. 11-14, during his first round at TPC Boston.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

NORTON — Last fall might feel like a lifetime ago, but Harris English remembers it vividly. He was still in the middle of an agonizing drought — six years without a win on the PGA Tour. He was sitting at No. 149 in the FedExCup standings, with conditional playing status coming into the season.

The 31-year-old Georgia native desperately needed a stroke of luck — or to make some luck of his own. He went on a run of five top-10 finishes in six events. But the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t cut anyone any slack, and English was no exception.

When golf, like most of the rest of the world, shut down in March, English’s turnaround was stopped in its tracks.

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English caught a much-needed break when the PGA Tour ruled prior to its return that no one would lose their card during this shortened season. Then he tested positive for COVID-19 in June and withdrew from the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Yet none of those roadblocks kept him from coming into the Northern Trust at TPC Boston believing the tournament was his for the taking.

When English walked into the clubhouse Thursday afternoon after his first round, he led the pack with a 7-under-par 64. Cameron Davis, Kevin Streelman, and Russell Henley pushed themselves to the top of the leaderboard alongside English with 64s in the afternoon.

FedEx Cup points leader Justin Thomas was four back but PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa made bogeys on two of the three par-5s and shot an even-par 71, in a tie for 85th.

English, for one, was happy with his showing.

“That’s what makes this game so much fun is it’s a battle year after year,” English said. “You have to play for your job every single year. It’s not like these other sports where you’re guaranteed four or five years and when we’re playing against the best players you see young guys coming up every single year trying to take our jobs. I’ve never taken it for granted. I know it’s always hard work. It’s always tough, and that’s what I love about it.”

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Harris English waits to hit on the 16th tee on Thursday.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

English ripped through the toughest stretch TPC Boston has to offer, birdieing Nos. 11 through 14. The highlight of the run was a 41-foot putt on 13.

“It helps when the greens are soft right now,” he said.

When English rattled off all the top names in play at the start of the FedExCup playoffs — from Thomas to last year’s Northern Trust champion Patrick Reed to Tiger Woods, all of whom shot 68 on Thursday — he made sure to include himself. English likes his odds, he likes the course, and he feels confident about the consistency he’s found over the season as he sits 27th in the standings.

“I’m ready to move up,” English said. “I’ve been in this spot a few times. I finished 32nd, I’ve finished 31st, I’ve barely made the Tour Championship before. I’m ready to make a run at it. I feel like my game is in a good spot. It’s been on the verge of breaking through for a while now, and I’m ready for it.

“I’m not satisfied with just barely being inside the Tour Championship. I want to make a move up the ranks and have a chance at lifting the FedExCup, which we all think about the whole year. That’s my goal for the whole year is to have a chance at winning that.”

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On Thursday, English hit 8 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens. He needed 27 putts. Looking back, he said confidence has been the cornerstone of his resurgence, and his swing coach, Justin Parsons, has been instrumental.

Harris English talks with his caddie on the 14th tee during Thursday's opening round.Rob Carr/Getty

“I feel like I’ve got a good team around me that have been really building me up,” English said. “My coach, Justin, has been really, really helpful, not just swing stuff but help building my confidence back up over these past six months, a year.

“I think if you would have asked him probably September of last year if I would have been in this position, he would have probably said yes, if not further along. I feel like it’s been a long time coming. It’s been a lot of work.”

English said he tested negative for COVID-19 this week. In a way, he was relieved to test positive so early.

“I kind of looked at it on the positive end of I’m glad I got it early on and not sitting here right now worrying about if I was going to get it when I leave here and not be able to finish this tournament, not be able to play Chicago, not be able to play Atlanta,” he said. “I looked at it on the positive end as I’m kind of glad I got it when I did and I didn’t have to worry about it right now.

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“Obviously, I’m still taking a lot of precautions and doing everything I’m supposed to do, but it kind of takes some weight off your shoulders to worry about playing in a golf tournament and be out here instead of another thing I can’t control if I get coronavirus or not.”

Now he finds himself where he wanted to be: in the hunt.

He said, “I feel like I’m ready for it to jump up and have a chance at winning some tournaments.”


Julian Benbow can be reached at julian.benbow@globe.com.