Mark Wilson watches his tee shot on the ninth hole during the first round at the BMW Championship golf tournament on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011.
LEMONT, Ill. (AP)—Mark Wilson had two wins in three weeks to start his PGA Tour season, and he has been relatively quiet ever since.
He has slipped to No. 17 in the FedEx Cup, and while he is safe to get into the Tour Championship, the further he falls behind makes it more difficult to go after the $10 million bonus. So when he opened the BMW Championship with a 6-under 65 on Thursday, two shots behind Justin Rose, one could argue that Wilson was inspired to play his best.
Turns out his inspiration came more from being at Cog Hill than his position in the FedEx Cup.
Wilson moved to the Chicago area in 2004 and was extended privileges at Cog Hill by owner Frank Jemsek. He considers this a home course, and with so much talk about this playoff event leaving the public course in south suburbs, he wanted to go out on a high note.
“I think it’s more this tournament—certainly the last one at Cog Hill for two years and maybe even indefinitely,” Wilson said. “So I’m looking more at that. But I’m excited to be the hometown boy here, and I’m not going to get another chance like that unless I can make the Ryder Cup team next year.”
The Ryder Cup will be held in 2012 at Medinah, and the BMW Championship will go to Indiana at Crooked Stick.
Wilson had plenty of family and friends tagging along at Cog Hill on a chilly day with a swirling breeze, conditions that are even tougher on a long, hard track. There was that 3-wood that tore a chunk out of the soft green when it landed on the par-5 15th and settled 8 feet away for an eagle. And there was an unlikely finish, when he holed a 35-foot birdie putt on No. 9.
“A bonus putt,” Wilson said.
There were a lot of those for Rose, who tied the BMW Championship record for the lowest opening round at 63. It was so good that his score was nearly nine shots better than the field average, and only 16 other players broke 70.
Most players figured anything under 70 would be a great score because of the cool temperatures, and Rose thought the same. Warming up on the range, he was expecting to simply hang on in the first round. But he started pouring in birdie putts from the 12- to 15-foot range, hitting every fairway, giving himself birdie chances on all but two holes.
He wound up with nine birdies and his best round of the year.
“Didn’t expect that going out there today,” Rose said. “I looked to the weather, looked at the temperature, and I thought today was going to be a day to hang in there. Little did I know I was about to play so well—certainly my best round of the year by a long, long way. And could have been top five, top 10 rounds I’ve ever played for sure.”
Simpson remained hot despite the weather.
He won for the first time on the PGA Tour a month ago at Greensboro, then won again two weeks later in the Deutsche Bank Championship to move to the top of the FedEx Cup and assure himself one of the coveted top five positions at East Lake. Another week, another course, and there he is again.
“Luckily, I was able to keep the momentum in the good stretch I had in Boston going into today,” Simpson said. “We got off to a really good start and made a few really good saves there in the middle of the round and finished with a couple birdies coming in. It was a good day for the tough course and tough conditions we were facing.”
Simpson made it sound simple, which is how golf can feel when a player is winning.
It wasn’t that way for everyone.
Dustin Johnson, the defending champion at Cog Hill, sputtered at the start and then stumbled at the turn, making five bogeys for a 40 on his back nine for a 76. Jason Day had a 77, while Bubba Watson was wild off the tee and didn’t make a single birdie in his round of 78.
Phil Mickelson nearly joined them. He took double bogey on the par-3 second hole when his flop shot from the other side of the green only went one-third of the way toward the hole and stayed in the collar of the rough. Another towering flop shot wound up 12 feet by the hole. Lefty was 4 over through five holes, but ran off four birdies and salvaged a 72.
Mickelson was among the strongest critics of Cog Hill—not the Jemsek family, but the decision to hire Rees Jones to redesign the public course with hopes of landing a U.S. Open that it didn’t get despite the $5 million in renovation.
Wilson loves Cog Hill, and he doesn’t take the criticism personally. Still, he thinks players are missing the point.
“It hurts a little bit that Frank Jemsek is such a nice man,” Wilson said. “The Jemsek family has done so much for public golf here in Chicago, and all my neighbors come out and play here, all these courses, and Cog Hill is one that everybody knows around here in Chicago. To have the pros maybe not like it … it doesn’t hurt my feelings really, it’s just that there’s more to Cog Hill than just a one-week golf tournament for the pros.”
For one week, much is at stake.
The top 30 from the 70-man field advance to the Tour Championship next week in Atlanta, with $10 million at stake for the winner of the FedEx Cup. Among those who helped their chances Thursday were Jim Furyk and Camilo Villegas, each with a 68.
Villegas narrowly got into the FedEx Cup playoffs, starting at No. 109, and now has the Tour Championship in his sights. But he’s not about to start looking ahead to where he has to finish or how he gets to East Lake.
“Who cares where you are right now,” Villegas said. “It’s all about just playing good golf from here the next three days and hopefully advancing.”