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Tour Report: First-round observations

By Fred Albers, PGA TOUR.COM Correspondent

Putting for dough: Nick Watney has had a frustrating year. He ranked 49th in FedExCup points going into the Playoffs after ranking first in 2011. What’s the difference? Putting. Watney ranked 12th in strokes gained-putting in 2011, picking up more than a half-stroke on average on the field. This year, he’s 135th and giving up .156 strokes on average. That all changed on Thursday. Watney hit every fairway and 15 greens but the reason he shot 65 was his putter. Watney took 26 putts and is ranked first this week in strokes gained-putting.

Surprised: Tiger Woods walked off the ninth green and looked at the leaderboard with a quizzical expression as if to say, ‘Where is everyone finding all those birdies?’ Woods was solid, hitting 13 greens and shooting 68 but was not in the top 10 as he finished the round. He said the greens were receptive but also a little "chewy," even in the morning. Woods had 28 putts and took a more aggressive line with his approaches than he did at Bethpage during U.S. Open play because the greens are still soft.

Close: Phil Mickelson says he is close, very close. The lefty shot 68 despite hitting just six fairways. It has not been a great ball-striking year for Mickelson. He ranked 173rd in hitting fairways and 123rd in hitting greens. Mickelson ranks 14th in FedExCup points because he’s having a great putting year. He is 13th in strokes gained-putting after ranking 134th and 133rd the last two seasons. Mickelson is right: He is very close to playing very well. If he improves his ball-striking just slightly, Mickelson could finish the year with a flourish.

Attack: Padraig Harrington says it took about nine holes for him to realize he wasn’t playing the same Bethpage course as he did during U.S. Open competition. The Irishman was a cautious 2 under for his first nine holes and had a little talk with himself on his was to the 10th tee. Harrington reasoned the greens were soft and it was time to attack.  Harrington parred the 10th, then birdied six of the next seven holes to shoot 64, which included shooting 29 on the inward nine. That must have been quit a little pep talk in the 100 yards separating the ninth green from the 10th tee.

Fat of the Green: You would not think Bethpage State Park’s Black Course would be the ideal layout for Brian Harmon. It stretches more than 7,400 yards and Harmon has averaged 290 yards per drive this year. In the opening round, he averaged even less at 279.5 yards. With longer irons into the green than some players, Harmon aimed for the middle of the putting surface and played to his strength. Harmon is a very good putter and needed just 24 of them in his round. Ranked 97th in FedExCup points, Harmon says he is very much aware of his standing from round to round and tournament to tournament.

Long John: It’s never a surprise when J.B. Holmes uncorks a long drive, but he was impressive on Thursday. He averaged 340.5 yards per measured drive, which included a 348-yard smash on the 15th hole. The field average was 290.4 yards per drive.

Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.

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