Si Woo Kim of South Korea and J.J. Spaun kicked off the FedEx Cup Playoffs in style, shooting matching 8-under 62s to share the first-round lead Thursday at the FedEx St. Jude Championship in Memphis, Tenn.
The pair leads PGA Tour rookie Sahith Theegala by one shot, with Tony Finau, J.T. Poston, South Korea’s K.H. Lee and Austria’s Sepp Straka tied for fourth at 6-under 64 at TPC Southwind.
Kim holed out for eagle on the par-4 18th to get to 8 under not long after he made progress with a string of four birdies. Kim’s 8-iron shot from approximately 168 yards was dead on line with the pin, and after two hops it dropped into the cup.
Kim chalked up his birdie streak at Nos. 13-16 to a mid-round tweak to his putting grip. The first two birdie putts landed from about 13 and 24 feet, respectively.
“The change of the putting grip, it helps and then makes more comfortable feeling,” Kim said. “A couple of drops and I kept getting confidence.”
Spaun, meanwhile, cruised around the course with eight birdies and no bogeys. It was the kind of start he was looking for as he tries to regain the form he had when he won the Valero Texas Open in April.
“I think I putted really well and I drove it really well,” Spaun said. “I guess I hit 15 out of 18 greens, so that’s a pretty good combo.”
Theegala’s bogey-free 63 marked his 49th round in the 60s this season, which leads the PGA Tour. He started with three birdies on the back nine, ran off three straight at Nos. 2-4 and drained a 25-foot putt at his last hole, the par-4 ninth.
“It’s probably my best driving round of the year,” Theegala said. “I’m going to guess I hit 11 or 12 fairways and these fairways are pretty tight. It’s cool to see some of the work that me and (his coach) have put in … just over the last few days.”
The St. Jude is the new first leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs. The top 125 players in the regular-season points standings qualified (120 are playing), and only the top 70 after this week will advance to the second leg, the BMW Championship.
Two notable players on the bubble helped themselves with good starts. Former world No. 1 Jason Day of Australia, who entered the week No. 113 in points, had a bogey-free 65. He was tied with, among others, Rickie Fowler, whose opening 65 featured a stellar eagle at the par-5 16th.
Fowler, who was the last player in the field of 125 and who parted ways with his caddie earlier this week, drove the 16th green in two and had just a 6-footer left for eagle. That elevated him into a large tie for eighth at 5 under.
“Ended up having a good number with the breeze off the right and can kind of just let 4-iron cruise and if I hung it a little bit, the little breeze was there to hold it,” Fowler said. “Came out perfect, kind of little cut off the pin and held there.”
Max Homa, Joohyung Kim of South Korea and Adam Scott of Australia were among those at 4-under 66. A massive tie for 30th at 3-under 67 featured Justin Thomas, Cameron Smith of Australia, Viktor Hovland of Norway, Jon Rahm of Spain, Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay and Cameron Young.
Jordan Spieth and Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy fell behind with even-par 70s. World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris struggled to 1-over 71s.
–Field Level Media