Matt Kuchar leads rain-shortened Barclays

August 27, 2011 - 2:50 AM
Barclays Golf

Matt Kuchar hits his tee shot from the second hole during the second round of The Barclays golf tournament, Friday, Aug. 26, 2011, in Edison, N.J. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

EDISON, N.J. (AP) — Everything about Matt Kuchar's final stroke of the second round looked so routine.

He rapped in a 4-footer for par and signed for a 6-under 65, keeping his name atop the leaderboard at The Barclays.

And there it stayed when Dustin Johnson failed to convert a 7-foot birdie putt on his last hole on the other side of the golf course Friday, leaving him one shot behind. Later in the day, Vijay Singh two-putted for par from 40 feet and was one shot back.

Only later did that sequence take on greater importance.

The players knew at that point, the opening FedEx Cup playoff event would be reduced to 54 holes because of Hurricane Irene. The plan was to play the third round early Saturday with hopes of getting it in before the storm arrives.

If they don't finish, the event would revert to a 36-hole tournament.

And a shaky forecast, with some rain possible before the final round begins, could leave Kuchar as a winner of The Barclays for the second straight year, and make him an early contender for the $10 million FedEx Cup prize.

"The best players generally come out winners after 72, so for me, I feel like the more golf we play, the better my chances," said Kuchar, who was at 14-under 128. "But given the situation, I love being on top of the leaderboard with 18 holes to go. Hard to find something to complain about with the situation I'm in. Yeah, I'm quite happy that I've got this opportunity. I just feel like we've got one last round to go."

Maybe.

Despite missing birdie putts inside 10 feet on his last three holes — including a three-putt par on the 16th — Johnson had a 63 and would figure to have an advantage on soft Plainfield Country Club with his power. Singh, who has gone 67 events on the PGA Tour without winning, wound up with eight birdies in his round of 64 to put himself in the mix.

"I'm pretty happy with my position," Singh said. "I would have loved to be in the lead in case we don't play."

Equally important is what's going on at the bottom of the FedEx Cup standings.

Padraig Harrington (124) and William McGirt (125) were the last two players to qualify for the playoffs. Harrington had a 67 and was at 10 under. McGirt had a 69 and was another shot behind.

That put them in great shape not only to be among the top 100 who advance to the second playoff event next week in Boston, it gives them a head start on making it to the third event in Chicago.

Ernie Els (5 under) and Ian Poulter (4 under) were still projected outside the top 100, but they could help themselves get to Boston with a solid round Saturday, assuming golf is played.

And then there's Ben Crane, who missed the cut, but still would advance (projected at No. 99) unless the third round is completed.

This isn't the kind of drama the PGA Tour envisioned for the start of these playoffs.

Then again, no one imagined The Barclays would start the week with the ground shaking from an earthquake, and end with the first playoff event to be reduced to 54 holes because of a hurricane.

What helped is that only 72 players made the cut at 4-under 138, which at least makes for a quicker third round.

Plainfield already had received about 10 inches of rain the past two weeks and 10 more were expected Sunday. There also were safety issues. Crews began dismantling electronic scoreboards Friday afternoon and an army of volunteers from the area had to make their own plans to evacuate, if necessary.

"It kind of makes you want to cry because of all the effort that went in, and all of the energy that surrounded this event going into the week, which is going to be the best Barclays we have ever had," tournament director Peter Mele said.

The tournament had been a sellout, and fans still turned out Friday in warm weather. They were treated to quite a show.

Kuchar, who won The Barclays last year at Ridgewood, played without a bogey in a round so efficient that his most memorable shot was punching under a tree and onto the green for a two-putt par on the eighth.

He finished his first round earlier Friday with a birdie on the 18th for a 63.

Johnson was blasting driver whenever he thought he could carry the trouble off the tee. He came up just short of the par-4 fourth and ninth greens, making birdie on both as he went out in 29. Johnson made an 18-foot birdie on the 11th to tie for the lead, but his 3-iron into the par-5 12th turned just enough to catch the water, and he had to scramble for par.

It was a spectacular round in many ways, no matter how soft the conditions, no matter how many chances he missed.

"There's no way I can say I'm disappointed by any means," he said. "I could have done a little better with the short game. But overall, I mean a 63 is a 63. I'm going to be smiling." And, yes, he said that with a smile.

Singh had only one blemish when he three-putted from 30 feet on the 15th, but he countered with eight birdies. He recently went to Germany to get the same treatment on his back as Fred Couples, who won on the Champions Tour last week.

Jonathan Byrd birdied his last hole for a 66 and was at 11 under.

PGA Tour events are not official unless they go at least 54 holes. If the rain arrives earlier than expected Saturday and the tournament reverts to 36-hole scores, the tour will still distribute FedEx Cup points as if it were official, which is significant for those trying to get into the top 100.

Adam Scott won a playoff at Riviera six years ago after rain allowed just 36 holes, and while he received official money, it didn't count as a PGA Tour win and he only received 75 percent of the world ranking points available that week.

None of the players seemed to mind that it would be 54 holes, even as a playoff event. One look at the forecast, and news of a hurricane warning for New Jersey, was enough to make anyone realize golf is secondary.

"I think they made the right decision," Harrington said. "There's bigger things going on, once this hurricane hits, to be worried about coming back for the last round of a golf event. There's going to be bigger issues."