EDISON, N.J. What once looked to be a long week at The Barclays suddenly has turned into a sprint.
Matt Kuchar heard the news from his walking scorer when he reached the eighth green Friday: The PGA Tours opening playoff event would be reduced to 54 holes today because of Hurricane Irene. By then, the defending champion already had left his mark on Plainfield Country Club and closed with a pair of pars for a 6-under 65.
That gave Kuchar a one-shot lead over Dustin Johnson and Vijay Singh, and it could loom large.
Even now, no one is sure what to expect from Irene. The plan is to start the third and final round this morning and hope to finish before the rain arrives. If not, it will revert to a 36-hole tournament.
The best players generally come out winners after 72, so for me, I feel like the more golf we play, the better my chances, Kuchar said. 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 Im in. Yeah, Im quite happy that Ive got this opportunity. I just feel like weve got one last round to go.
Its the first time a FedEx Cup playoff event has been reduced to 54 holes since the series began in 2007, and there was not much choice.
Plainfield already had received about 10 inches of rain the last 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, and he was at 14-under 128 going into the final round.
On the other side of the course was Johnson, using his sheer power to overwhelm a soft course. Johnson was blasting driver whenever he thought he could carry the trouble off the tee.
It was a spectacular round in many ways, no matter how soft the conditions. Over the final three holes, Johnson missed birdie putts inside 10 feet and still shot 63.
Theres no way I can say Im 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. Im going to be smiling.
And, yes, he said that with a smile.