The BMW Championship got off to a fantastic start Thursday as the best players in the world worked their way up the leaderboard and perhaps the top golfer in the world kicked away a shot at the first-round lead (more on that later). Keegan Bradley is the leader after firing a 7-under 64 over the first 18 holes and is looking for his second BMW Championship victory in the last five years.
Bradley may have a lot of big-name company at the top of the leaderboard over the next 54 holes. Justin Thomas, Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay and Jordan Spieth all had nice days and are all in a good position to win what could be a second great playoff event this week.
Wilmington Country Club was, as predicted, a bomber’s paradise. Bradley is happy about that because it’s one of the strongest parts of his game and the top of the leaderboard is littered with the biggest hitters in the sport. Though we can debate whether that’s a good thing for PGA Tour setups, what we can’t really question is that it’s a reality this week which has implications for how the rest of the tournament will play out.
Let’s take a look at Bradley’s first round and what to look for over the next three days.
1. Keegan Bradley (-7): His 64 in Round 1 was highlighted by one of the better putting days of his career. He led the field in putting, did his usual lights-out routine with his iron play and as a result, nabbed yet another first-round lead on the PGA Tour. Surprisingly, Bradley trails only Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas in first-round leads over the last three years.
Just as important for Bradley, who came into the day ranked No. 44 in the FedEx Cup standings, he is projected to jump into the top five going to the Tour Championship at East Lake. Obviously there’s a long way to go, but this would be just his second Tour Championship since 2014 (with the other coming in 2018 when he won the BMW Championship).
“I never look to see what I have to do [to make it to the Tour Championship],” Bradley said. “Whether I play in this tournament or Sony or any tournament, I always want to do the best I can, whether it’s 35th instead of 36th or first, whatever it is. I never feel like that helps me, I feel like it hurts me actually. But this is a good start, obviously.”
2. Adam Scott (-6)
T3. Justin Thomas, Shane Lowry, Harold Varner III (-5)
T6. Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Tyrrel Hatton, Cameron Young, Russell Henley, Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa, Chez Reavie (-4)
Thomas has become the tournament favorite after Round 1. He’s had a bit of an up-and-down few months (at least for him) since he won the PGA Championship in May. He nearly won in Canada, but everything else has been pretty mediocre. He did pop off at the FedEx St. Jude Championship last week where he finished in the top 15 and was awesome Thursday. One thing to keep an eye on is that he only hit eight fairways and lost strokes to the field off the tee. I’m not sure he can putt his way out of that like he did Thursday, but he’s been so consistently near the top of the FedEx Cup race recently — first, seventh, third, second and fourth over the last five years — that I expect more of the same going to East Lake.
Rory’s only miss
It looked for a bit in the afternoon like the best player in the world over the last year (at least statistically) would lead this tournament after the first day. Then McIlroy tried to hit a cut into the par-3 15th, made a triple after it landed in the middle of a pond and settled for a 3-under 68. Incredibly, this was not the only place he dropped three strokes. The five moved him from third to ninth in the FedEx Cup standings, which means that he also lost three strokes off next week’s starting numbers at the Tour Championship. Still, it was an impressive day for McIlroy, who absolutely bludgeoned Wilmington Country Club with his driver and probably should have gotten more out of it than he did.
“Much better than last week,” McIlroy said of his performance. “Sort of feel like I shook off the rust a little bit. Just that one tee shot on 15. I felt like I had probably half a club too much, so I was trying to hit like a cut in there over the water, and I just double-crossed it and then compounded that by the three-putt.
“But overall the rest of it was pretty good. I mean, 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. It sort of would have been nice to flip them, like have my first event back after three weeks be this course and then Memphis next week. But it was much better. Pleased with my game. Disappointed with how I finished, but encouraged with the rest of it.”
Tough day with the putter
Statistically, Luke List had one of the worst putting days I’ve ever seen. He somehow gained strokes from tee to green and still shot 78. That’s because he lost 9.05 strokes putting, or over a half stroke per hole. Next worst was Si Woo Kim at -5.14 and then you have to go to Mito Pereira at -3.40. List should have shot 68 or 69 based on how he hit it, and he probably will Friday.
2022 BMW Championship updated odds and picks
- Justin Thomas: 6-1
- Rory McIlroy: 9-1
- Keegan Bradley: 11-1
- Cameron Young: 12-1
- Xander Schauffele: 12-1
- Scottie Scheffler: 12-1
- Collin Morikawa: 14-1
- Adam Scott: 14-1
I like Rory here, but I like Cameron Young more at 12-1, according to the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook. He’s going to feast on this course, was positive strokes gained in every category Thursday and he’s an all-or-nothing guy. Each of his last 12 starts has been either inside the top three or outside the top 30, which is a truly incredible streak that I think will continue this weekend.