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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 17 April, 2014

Donald starts strongly, Harrington in touch at Deutsche Bank

Luke Donald and Masters champion Charl Schwartzel find themselves within a shot of Troy Matteson’s lead after the first round of the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston. Padraig Harrington also finds himself within striking distance.

Luke Donald carded an opening 66 in yesterday's first round.
Luke Donald carded an opening 66 in yesterday's first round.
Image: ASSOCIATED PRESSAP

TROY MATTESON AND Luke Donald had their lowest opening round of the year on the PGA Tour in the first round of the Deutsche Bank Championship, and that’s about all they have in common.

Matteson is No. 207 in the world ranking. What matters more this time of the year is that he’s No. 97 in the FedEx Cup standings, knowing that he’ll be out of the playoffs if he doesn’t play well at the TPC Boston.

He went to the practice range and hit the ball so poorly he figured he would be doing well to break 80. From the fairway on his first hole, he hit it so poorly that his ball came up some 75 feet short and led to a bogey. Before long, he was making birdies from everywhere on his way to a 6-under 65 that gave him a one-shot lead Friday.

“Pretty interesting round for me with how I was going into the day,” Matteson said.

Donald is No. 1 in the world, where he has been all summer. He is No. 5 in the FedEx Cup standings, assured of being at East Lake for a shot at the $10 million prize. Oddly, he has broken 70 in the opening round of a PGA Tour event only once since The Players Championship in May.

He fixed that Friday with six birdies in 11 holes to challenge for the lead, then made sure he didn’t let the round get away from him when he saved par with putts of 6 feet, 12 feet and 5 feet on three straight holes on his way to a 66.

“It’s always nice to get off to a good start,” Donald said. “I think the last couple events, I haven’t played that great the first round and have been playing catch up. So it’s nice to post 5 under. I’m in great position.”

Donald attributed this to his short game — which led to missing the cut at the British Open. That wasn’t an issue in the afternoon, as the greens of the TPC Boston began to get firm under a full day of blazing sunshine.

“The last month or so, I haven’t made those putts when I needed to, and today I did,” Donald said. “And that was really the difference between 5 under and maybe 2 under and being back in the pack. It’s nice to see the putter warming up a little bit.”

Donald was joined by Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, former PGA champion Y.E. Yang and Jerry Kelly. Nick Watney was among those another shot behind at 67. Dustin Johnson, who won the playoff opener last week at The Barclays, took bogey on two par 5s that he could reach in two and still managed a 68.

Schwartzel has a chance to become the third player in the five-year history of the FedEx Cup to win the $10 million by skipping the first playoff event. Tiger Woods did it in 2007, as did Jim Furyk a year ago, though not on purpose. He overslept and missed his pro-am time, making him ineligible to play The Barclays.

Schwartzel has a big finish to his year, so he wanted some time off. He didn’t think it was the worst idea, especially when an earthquake and hurricane hit New Jersey in the same week.

“I was sitting in South Africa in the sunshine and watching the guys struggle through the hurricane and all the things happening out here,” he said. “In that sense, it was maybe a good choice. But by missing an event, you put yourself back a little bit on the back foot.”

Schwartzel started at No. 21 and slipped to No. 28 by not playing. He doesn’t know all the details of the FedEx Cup, only that a win in any of the opening three events will give him as good a shot as anyone at the big prize.

Padraig Harrington, who entered the event uncertain of a place in next week’s field, opened with a two-under-par 69.

– Additional reporting from the AP

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