Keegan Bradley hasn’t been to the FedEx Cup finale in four years, and he started the BMW Championship on Thursday like he was in a hurry to get back.
Bradley matched a career low with a 29 on the front nine at Wilmington Country Club and finished with a 7-under 64 to take a one-shot lead over Adam Scott.
Bradley is at No. 44 in the FedEx Cup and likely needs a top 10 — he hasn’t had one since the U.S. Open — to be among the 30 players who advance to the Tour Championship in Atlanta to chase the $18 million prize.
He isn’t willing to consider the scenarios until it matters, which is Sunday. Until then, it’s all about try to do win a tournament, just like any week.
“My plan is I’m going to go home and see my kids no matter what on Sunday night,” Bradley said. “I’d love to go to Atlanta. That’s everyone’s goal to start the year.”
Scott started the postseason at No. 77 and tied for fifth in the playoff opener last week just to make it to the second stage. Now he’s at No. 45, giving him a chance. It also meant being paired with Bradley, and they put on quite a show. They combined for 15 birdies.
“He played beautifully today, and I was really just trying to follow his lead,” Scott said. “He kind of had everything going the way he wanted, and most of the time he was teeing off first and I was just trying to follow.”
PGA champion Justin Thomas put a different putter in the bag and responded with a 66 to leave him in the group with former British Open champion Shane Lowry and Harold Varner III.
Xander Schauffele and Collin Morikawa led the group at 67.
Rory McIlroy was the only player from the afternoon who looked to challenge Bradley, and he was doing just that at 6 under with four holes to play. But then he was between clubs on the par-3 15th, tried to hit a soft cut with a 5-iron and put his tee shot into he water. He took three putts from just short of the green, missing a 3-footer, and made triple bogey.
McIlroy was in the group at 68 that included Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay, who won the BMW Championship last year an hour down the road at Caves Valley on his way to capturing the FedEx Cup.
McIlroy was able to accept one bad swing that cost him three shots, especially having missed the cut last week in the FedEx St. Jude Championship.
“Overall the rest of it was pretty good,” he said. “I knew once I got here last weekend, I knew it was a golf course that was going to suit me better than last week. ... Pleased with my game. Disappointed with how I finished, but encouraged with the rest of it.”
The course is new to everyone — Delaware has never hosted a PGA Tour event — though Bradley has reason to feel right at home. He won the BMW Championship in 2018 some 20 miles away at Aronimink when he was No. 52 in the FedEx Cup, sending him to Atlanta.
The courses are nothing alike. If anything, Wilmington reminds several players of a “big brother” to Caves Valley, about the same length (7,534 yards) except playing to a par 71.
Find the fairway, fire at the flag. Miss the fairway, and it’s all about trying to get into position. It doesn’t always work out that way, and Schauffele is thankful for that.
He pulled his tee shot so far left on the par-5 14th that he was in shaggy round just in front of the on No. 3. He could see a portion of the green between a television tower, some video equipment and the trees. Schauffele got line-of-sight relief, and his drop happened to be on one of the forward tees. He belted a 3-wood onto the green for birdie.
Will Zalatoris won his first PGA Tour title last week at an ideal time, moving to the top of the FedEx Cup standings. Three holes into the BMW Championship, he went bunker to rough to bunker and then three-putted for a double bogey.
He rallied with four birdies on the back and escaped with a 70. Scottie Scheffler, the No. 1 player in the world coming off a missed cut, still felt scrappy but holed enough putts for a 69.