WILMINGTON, Del. — Keegan Bradley hasn’t made the FedEx Cup Finals in four years, and he started the BMW Championship on Thursday looking like he’s in a rush to get back.
Bradley matched a career low 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 No. 44 in the FedEx Cup standings and likely needs a top 10 finish — he hasn’t had one since the US Open — to be among the 30 players who will qualify for the Tour Championship in Atlanta for chasing the $18 million. price.
He’s not willing to consider scenarios until it counts, which is Sunday. Until then, it’s about trying to win a tournament, like any week.
“My plan is to go home and see my kids no matter what on Sunday night,” Bradley said. “I would love to go to Atlanta. It’s everyone’s goal to start the year.”
Scott started the playoffs at No. 77 and finished tied for fifth in Game 1 of the playoffs last week just to advance to Stage Two. Now he’s at No. 45, which gives 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 trying to follow his lead,” Scott said. “He had kind of done everything the way he wanted, and most of the time he was going 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 Schauele and Collin Morikawa led the group at 67.
Rory McIlroy was the only player on the afternoon looking to challenge Bradley, and he was doing just that at 6 under with four holes to play. But then he was between the clubs on the 15 par 3, tried to hit a soft cut with a 5 iron and put his tee shot in the water. He took three putts just before the green, missing a 3-footer and triple bogeyed.
McIlroy was part of the 68-year-old group that included Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay, who won the BMW Championship last year an hour’s drive away in Caves Valley en route to winning the FedEx Cup.
McIlroy was able to accept a bad swing that cost him three shots, especially after missing the cut last week in the FedEx St. Jude Championship.
“Overall the rest was pretty good,” he said. “I knew when I got here last weekend, I knew this was a golf course that would suit me better than last week. … Satisfied with my game. Disappointed with how I finished, but encouraged from the rest.”
The course is new to everyone – Delaware has never hosted a PGA Tour event – although Bradley has reason to feel at home. He won the BMW Championship in 2018 around 20 miles in Aronimink while No. 52 in the FedEx Cup, sending him to Atlanta.
The courses are not alike. On the contrary, Wilmington reminds several players of a “big brother” in Caves Valley, roughly the same length (7,534 yards) except playing at a par 71.
Find the fairway, shoot 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 grateful for that.
He shot his tee shot so far left on the par-5 14th that he was in unkempt ground just past No. 3. He could see part of the green between a TV tower, video equipment and the trees. Schauffele got line-of-sight relief, and his fall happened to be on one of the front tees. He belted a 3 wood on the green for a birdie.
Will Zalatoris won his first PGA Tour title last week at a perfect time, topping the FedEx Cup standings. Three holes in the BMW Championship, he went from bunker to rough to bunker, then put three putts for a double bogey.
He rallied with four birdies behind his back and escaped with a 70. Scottie Scheffler, the No. 1 player in the world after a missed cut, still felt scrappy but made enough putts for a 69.