GREENSBORO, N.C. – Russell Henley still thinks about a poor finish from two years ago at the Wyndham Championship. He had no complaints about his start Thursday, an 8-under 62 that gave him the lead in the final tournament before the PGA Tour's postseason.
Henley hit his approach to 6 feet for eagle on the par-5 15th on his way to a 30 on the back nine at rain-softened Sedgefield Country Club. He led by one over Adam Svensson and Byeong Hun An, who birdied his last two holes.
Henley is at No. 34 in the FedEx Cup standings, while Svensson is No 37 and An No. 52. They are assured a place in the postseason, which is for the top 70. They could be getting a head start on the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Adam Scott doesn't have that luxury, and that made his opening 65 valuable. He is at No. 81 and needs a big finish to salvage his season. So does Justin Thomas at No. 78 — for the FedEx Cup and the Ryder Cup — and he could only manage a 70.
Henley was helped by avoiding the light but steady rain that fell most of the morning, the weather Scott, Thomas and other early starters had to face. Henley missed only two fairways and rode a hot putter, a good recipe for this course.
Two years ago, Henley had a three-shot lead going into the final round and still had control on the back nine when he made four bogeys over the last eight holes, including the 18th to miss out on a playoff by one shot. It still bothers him.
“I think about it a lot,” Henley said. “I was leading by three going in the final round a couple and was leading the tournament by a few going into No. 11 ... and didn’t get it done,” Henley said. “That's a good learning experience, and feel like I’ve gotten better as a player because of it. But all I can do is just one shot at a time right now.”
The top 70 who qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs is down from 125 players in recent years, a change announced in the summer of 2022. Scott doesn't like being in this position, but he understands how to fix it.
“I've had a lot of years having a go at the FedEx Cup playoffs, and all these kind of things come to an end at some point,” Scott said. “But for sure, I want to win this tournament, and if I do that I can have a really good run right through to East Lake, I believe.”
A year ago, Scott parlayed a tie for fifth in two postseason events into a trip to East Lake.
Andrew Novak holed out from off the 18th green for birdie and a 64. The group at 66 included Thomas Detry and Ludwig Aberg of Sweden, the former Texas Tech star who topped the list on the PGA Tour University ranking to earn membership. Because he didn't turn pro until June, Aberg is No. 146 and would have to win to advance.
Thomas had a round that matched the dreary day of light but steady rain. He had two birdies, two bogeys and the rest pars, some of them valuable. But he needs a high finish — 18th place at a mathematical minimum, though something around 10th might be more safe — to get into the top 70. He currently is at No. 78.
Adding to the importance is that Ryder Cup qualifying ends in three more tournaments, and then six players are added as captain's picks. Without any more tournaments, Zach Johnson might have a tough time considering a player who has gone 15 months without a win.
“I played fine. I didn’t really do anything well, I didn’t do anything terribly,” Thomas said. “When I woke up and looked at it this morning, didn’t think I was going to be playing 16 holes in rain. So that’s a bummer, especially in the position that I’m in and the scores that I need. But who knows what will happen the rest of the day? I just wish I would have taken advantage of a couple more scoring clubs.”
Stephen Jaeger, at No. 64 in the standings, had a good start to protect his position. He opened with a 67, along with a large group that included Billy Horschel and Brendon Todd.
Most of the players who don't reach the postseason will have the fall to make sure they stay among the top 125 who have full cards for 2024.
AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf