J.J. Spaun hopes he’s only getting started on the road to the FedEx Cup finale. Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, and Jordan Spieth will have to wait another week.
As for Jason Day, his season is over.
Spaun made a late birdie for a 3-under 67 to take a one-shot lead Friday in the FedEx St. Jude Championship, the opening event in the PGA Tour postseason that no longer has three of its biggest stars for the weekend at the TPC Southwind.
Scheffler, the Masters champion and No. 1 player for the last five months, never quite recovered from what he could only describe as an “out-of-body experience” with his putting in the first round. He had birdie chances on two of the last three holes he couldn’t convert and his 68 was one shot short of making the weekend.
“Obviously, it’s really frustrating coming into the playoffs,” Scheffler said. “I was practicing really hard at home, actually playing really good, and I showed up and had the worst putting day ever. Golf smacks you in the face sometimes.”
McIlroy went from rough to gallery to fringe to bogey on his last hole for a 69 for only his second missed cut of the year. Spieth’s hopes of playing the weekend ended with a tee shot into the water on the par-3 14th that led to a 74.
At least they get to play next week in the BMW Championship, being high enough in the standings not to lose too much sleep over it.
Day opened with a 65 and was hopeful of a big finish to advance into the top 70 who made it to the next playoff event. Instead, the former world No. 1 dropped five shots over the last eight holes, shot 74 and missed the cut by one shot.
Day was among 31 players who started outside the top 70 in the FedEx Cup and missed the cut, meaning their season is over.
Rickie Fowler, who came in at No. 125, ended the back nine (double bogey) and front nine (bogey) poorly and shot 71. He was tied for 33rd, around for two more days but needing to contend to advance.
Spaun was at 11-under 129 and only looking ahead.
He was one shot ahead of Sepp Straka, who birdied his last three holes for a 66, and Troy Merritt, who had a 65. Merritt started at No. 64 in the standings, so this was just what he needed to make sure he would be moving on.
With a clear sky, hot sun and a little more wind, Spaun was as proud of his 67 on Friday as his 64 the day before. Mostly, he feels his game his coming around after going into a lull following his first PGA Tour title at the Valero Texas Open in early April.
“It’s so hard to be consistently good at the highest level. Some guys that do it like that, like Tiger [Woods] and McIlroy and all those guys. It’s just insane how good they are for so long,” Spaun said. “I did it for a few months and then kind of fell off, but here I am kind of making my way back.”
Straka knows the feeling. He had not made it to the weekend since the Memorial in early June. And then he opened with rounds of 64-66.
“Hadn’t played great coming into this week. Missed a bunch of cuts coming in,” Straka said (in his case, “a bunch” would be six in a row). “But that’s golf. You’re going to have the ebbs and flows and just kind go with it.”
And off he went, especially at the end, when he finished with three straight birdies to get to 10 under.
Tony Finau, coming off two straight victories, had his 11th consecutive round at 68 or lower dating to the final round of the British Open. His 68 on Friday left him three behind.
European/LPGA — Ewen Ferguson of Scotland followed up his big opening round with an even-par 70 but it kept him in the lead at the ISPS Handa World Invitational in Ballymena, Northern Ireland.
Ferguson carded a course-record 61 on Thursday at Galgorm Castle, one of two courses used for the event that features men’s and women’s tournaments taking place simultaneously.
The 26-year-old Ferguson, in search of his second European Tour victory, remained on 9 under overall after Friday’s round at Massereene Golf Club. Borja Virto of Spain was one shot back after his 67.
“[I] missed a couple of the putts that I’ve kind of been making yesterday to keep my round going,” Ferguson said. “Good putts, but just kind of lipping out, and yesterday they were kind of lipping in. You walk onto the next tee when they lip in, you feel amazing. When you walk on the next tee and they lip out you feel a bit flatter.”
Italy’s Filippo Celli (67), who won the silver medal as leading amateur at the British Open last month, was two strokes off the lead alongside Felix Palson (68) of Sweden.
The tournament is tri-sanctioned with the Ladies European Tour and the LPGA Tour. The men and women play from different tees and compete separately, with two equal prize funds of $1.5 million each.
Amanda Doherty of the United States kept her lead the women’s tournament after her 5-under 67 at Massereene. At 11 under overall, Doherty is one shot ahead of compatriot Lauren Coughlin and Dane Emily Kristine Pedersen.
The 24-year-old Doherty recorded five birdies on her front nine.
“Putts were going in today. I was hitting the ball well to get it close enough for them to go in, but they were just falling in, and that was definitely the best part of my game on the front nine,” she said.
Georgia Hall of England made a hole-in-one on the par-3 third in her 69 at Massereene. She is three shots off the lead.
“I couldn’t really see it, but I think it pitched a few yards short, spun, and then rolled in nicely,” she said.
Champions — K.J. Choi closed birdie-eagle-birdie for a 5-under 67 and a share of the first-round lead in the Boeing Classic in Snoqualmie, Wash.
Choi, the 52-year-old South Korean player who won last year at Pebble Beach for his lone senior title, was tied with Scott McCarron, Tim Petrovic, Scott Dunlap, and Billy Mayfair.
Choi birdied the par-4 seventh, eagled the par-5 eighth and closed with a birdie on the par-3 ninth at The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge.
Steve Stricker was a stroke back with 2019 winner Brandt Jobe, Billy Andrade, and Stephen Ames.
Local favorite Fred Couples and Charles Schwab Cup leader Steven Alker shot 69s.
Jerry Kelly, the Shaw Charity Classic winner last week in Alberta, opened with a 70. Alker and Kelly are the only three-time winners this year.