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Jordan Spieth struggles in opening round of FedEx Cup playoffs

Jordan Spieth struggles in opening round of FedEx Cup playoffs
Jordan Spiethreacts after missing a birdie putt at No. 18 during the first round of the Barclays golf tournament on Thursday. (Hunter Martin / Getty Images)

The start of the FedEx Cup playoffs brought out the worst score from Jordan Spieth in three months.

In his first tournament as No. 1 in the world, Spieth had a pair of three-putt bogeys, hit a tee shot in the water, shot 40 on his back nine and wound up with a 74 in the opening round of The Barclays. It was his highest score since a 75 in the Players Championship, the last time he missed a cut.

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"Just lot a little bit of focus," Spieth said. "All in all, I'm just going to take today as a fluke round. I still believe I'm playing well. It just happened to be an off day on a day where it counted."

Bubba Watson had seven birdies and a pair of late mistakes that led to a five-under-par 65 and a four-way share of the lead with Spencer Levin, Camilo Villegas and PGA Tour rookie Tony Finau.

Villegas only got into the top 125 to qualify for the playoffs last week at the Wyndham Championship with two shots to spare. That was pressure. Now he feels as though he has nothing to lose as he tries to get into the top 100 who advance to the second event next week at the TPC Boston.

"Last week was an important week," Villegas said. "It hasn't been the best of years, and just to be able to sneak in here and give myself a chance … I get off to a good start, and three more rounds to go and keep it going."

Spieth has nothing to lose except the No. 1 ranking he has held for all of two weeks.

With two majors among his four wins, and nine top-three finishes this year, he is No. 1 in the FedEx Cup and virtually assured of getting to the finale at East Lake with a clear shot at the $10-million bonus. He can afford an off week or three. He just didn't like it.

Playing alongside Watson and Jason Day -- the top three in the FedEx Cup -- Spieth didn't miss a fairway on the back nine and was two under at the turn, three shots behind Watson. From the fairway on No. 1 to a back pin, he got too aggressive and went over the green, leading to bogey. Facing a 20-foot birdie putt on the next hole, he left it woefully short and backed off the par putt twice before missing it. And then he put his next shot in the water.

The round ended with another three-putt bogey.

Spieth could lose the No. 1 ranking to Rory McIlroy, who is not playing this week as a precaution coming off an ankle injury. The next step is to make sure Spieth is around for the weekend at Plainfield Country Club.

"Do what I've done best — bounce back," he said. "I come back strong tomorrow. I'm not a big fan of the course. It doesn't fit me very well particularly, but I've also won on courses that I didn't think fit me very well. So I know I can still shoot a low round if I hit the shots that I need to hit, that I'm trying to hit.

"Typically when I hit the fairways, I'm not over par," he said. "And that's what was weird about the round."

Watson wasn't hitting all the fairways, but at times that was to his advantage. The greens are pitched in such a way that shots have to carry to the hole, allowing for spin to make sure the ball is below the hole. That's what caused Spieth problems at No. 1, and on the back nine when a sand wedge from the fairway spun back 35 feet.

From the rough, Watson was able to land short of the flag and have it roll up toward the hole. That set up ample birdies.

The course doesn't suit Watson, either, mainly because of the number of blind shots. He likes to see where the ball is supposed to land on fairways and greens. But he managed just find and opened strong on a course where four years ago he missed the cut.

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The best starts, however, belonged to the likes of Levin, Villegas and Jason Dufner, all of whom are outside the top 100 and trying to advance.

Day joined Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler in the group at 68.

Day pulled out of the pro-am Wednesday after tweaking his back. Oddly enough, he had wanted an MRI exam on his back before the playoffs to make sure everything was in order. He felt the twinge removing a light box from under his motor home, and decided to have the MRI on Wednesday. It showed everything in good order, and while he rubbed his back after a few hooked tee shots, he felt good enough.

Lang leads in Alabama

Brittany Lang birdied five of the first seven holes in windy conditions and shot a seven-under 65 to take the first-round lead in the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic at Prattville, Ala.

Added to the U.S. Solheim Cup team Monday as one of Juli Inkster's two captain's picks, Lang had a two-stroke lead over Tiffany Joh, Sydnee Michaels and Ryann O'Toole.

"It was just one of those days. It was so enjoyable," Lang said. "I wasn't thinking about a whole lot. I was just super committed to seeing my shots. It was so much fun."

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