While Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka put on a show Thursday at Ridgewood Country Club, a lesser-known pair of long hitters quietly displayed similar fireworks on the other side of the golf course. In the first group off the first tee in the opening round of The Northern Trust, Kevin Tway and Jamie Lovemark matched each other shot for shot, carding five-under 66s to grab a share of the lead.
The strong rounds come at an interesting time for both Tway and Lovemark, who entered the week 85th and 86th in the FedEx Cup standings, respectively. But they both arrived there in much different fashion, Tway riding a hot streak of late with all three of his top 10s this season coming after the Players Championship, while all three of Lovemark's coming before it. However they got here, they both know it's a new season, and while neither is in desperate need of a big week, it would certainly make them both feel much safer during next week's second leg of the playoffs at the Dell Technologies Championship.
"I remember a few years ago, Morgan Hoffmann came in at 124 and went all the way to the Tour Championship," Tway said. "That's kind of the plan, try to play as good as you can and go as far as you can."
Lovemark couldn't agree more. " Oh, yeah, we've seen guys come from 125. If you're in the Playoffs you have a good chance to get to East Lake. Just got to be in it to win it."
One of those guys that could come from all the way down the standings is Vaughn Taylor, who birdied five of his last six holes to also fire a 66. With just one top 10 in 2018, Taylor sits at 112th in the standings, but he could be in for a season-changing week with a good result that puts him inside the top 100.
Then there's Sean O'Hair, a four-time tour winner who has missed five of his last nine cuts since a T-2 at the Valero Texas Open, causing him to fall from 60th to 121st in the standings and barely hang on to grab a spot in New Jersey. After a front-nine 31, O'Hair made eight pars and a birdie to post his 66, putting him in a four-way tie at the top.
In a large group at four under is many of the marquee names this week at Ridgewood, including Koepka, Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey and, somewhat surprisingly, Hideki Matsuyama. After starting the year ranked No. 5 in the world, Matsuyama has dropped to 20th, finishing inside the top 10 just twice this year, the last coming in the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January. Failure to consistently post good rounds has plagued him this year, something he hopes to fix on Friday.
Potential Ryder Cup captain's picks Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau are two back following three-under 68s. Tiger Woods posted an even-par 71 and is five off the lead.