GREENSBORO, NC — Brian Sturd has not earned a FedExCup score since May 1 when he tied for 42nd at the Vidante Mexico Open. It is not a single point.
Not for lack of trying though. Sturd has played in 11 events since leaving Mexico and missed the tournament each time. Hence the sense of urgency this week at the Wyndham Championship.
Sturd, who has played in 33 events this year, had a final FedExCup regular-season ranking of 137. But he opened with a 65 at Sedgefield Country Club on Thursday and finished tied for fifth, and is now ranked 124th.
“I don’t have much to lose,” Sturd said. “I’m not in a great spot, so I’m just trying to figure out how to play good golf and see what happens.”
Thursday was a good start. The round of six birdies and one lone bogey were Sturd’s season lows, and only his second round of 60 shot him in a forgettable 11-round season of futility.
“I was fighting it a little bit, just trying to find my swing,” Sturd said. “It worked really well today. I think I’ve been able to control my nostalgia better than I’ve ever been able to control it. I wish I knew what the difference was, but yeah, I hope it continues.”
Sturd started the front nine Thursday with a clean 31 that included birdies of 4, 9, 6 (after a 46-foot eagle effort) and 13 feet. He made a 3-footer on the 13th hole, birdied the next three and closed the score with a 2-foot birdie on No. 15.
“It’s tough,” Sturd said when asked how he maintains his confidence. “Then you have a day where you start, like today where I started well and you go off the pace, so it doesn’t take much to turn the tide. Hopefully, this was a round and I can move on.
A year ago, Alex Smalley played sponsor-free at the Wyndham Championship — his last chance to earn enough FedExCup points to advance to the Korn Ferry Tour Finals and finally earn his PGA TOUR card.
On Thursday, Smalley shot a 65 on his home course as a member of the Tour and tied for fifth in a nine-way tie. Unlike last year, his job is secure for the 2022-23 season and he is projected to finish 57th in the FedExCup.
Not bad on a day when he didn’t think he had his best stuff – hitting 8-of-14 fairways and 11-of-18 greens. Smalley rolled well, and finished second in strokes gained, around the green and in strokes gained.
So has he lived up to expectations or exceeded them?
“I would say I met them,” Smalley said. “I wasn’t very happy about hitting the driver today. He especially didn’t play the best of 3 on the back nine. … I made a lot of good putts today, a lot of six- to 10-footers and I feel like I’ve had that all season. It was good to see them go down.”
PLAYOFFS Bubble Hour
Here are the players projected to be in and out of the 125 at the end of the first round at Sedgefield Country Club.
Michael Gligic (No. 132, projected No. 116) Gligic’s 65 tied the lowest round at Sedgefield, shot in the first round of last year’s event, and included a 31 on the back nine.
Brian Sturd (No. 137, projected No. 124) Sturd, who shot 5 in Thursday’s first round, shot a pair of 65s to move into a tie for 15th at last year’s Wyndham Championship.
Rickie Fowler (No. 123, Project No. 127) Fowler had a rough start and a rough finish — a double bogey on No. 1 and bogeys on Nos. 17 and 18 — en route to a 71.
Matt Wallace (No. 124, Project No. 128) Wallace, who missed his debut at the Wyndham Championship last year, shot a 71 with three birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey.
Note: John Huh played on the first team off the first tee, going 29 and posting a career-low 61, which gave him a two-shot lead and moved him up 72 points to No. 39 on the FedExCup. “I wasn’t. I felt really good about my game and put my career down and shot, which is weird,” Huh said. “Mixed feelings, but I’ll take that any day. I was able to use good breaks and good balls, that’s all I can say today.” … Aaron Wise has played just once after the last five weeks, and that was at the Open Championship in his 34th meet. “That’s what I’m here for, to knock off some rust for the playoffs and if I can get myself in contention, that’s even better,” said Wise, who is trying to win his first Tour Championship since Rookie of the Year. season in 2018. He’s on track, moving up eight spots to No. 26 in the FedExCup projections.… Austin Smotherman, who came in as a bubble boy at No. 125, has made a big move in a positive direction. A free 65 on Thursday left him tied for fifth at 106. No. 106. Smotherman, who hit 16 of the 18 greens, said he was happy to finally get golf under way. “Absolutely yes, the suspense, the build up to the first round. He will take care of your business.” … Speaking of business, there are three players with a chance to break into the Comcast Business Tour’s top 10 heading into the Wyndham Championship in Will Zalatoris, Sungjaim and Billy Horschel. Of the three, I was the only one who moved. He is projected to move from No. 15 to No. 8, second in No. 7 alone.