Tiger, Padraig in the hunt

Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington were two shots off the lead after the first round of the BMW Championship in Illinois.

Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington were two shots off the lead after Thursday’s first round of the BMW Championship in Illinois.

The duo were among six players three under par after rounds of 68, but men of the moment were South African Rory Sabbatini and American Steve Marino who shared the first-round lead on Thursday with 5-under 66s.

One shot back on 67 were Bo van Pelt and Australian Marc Leishman.

“I didn’t play very well my last two weeks,” said Sabbatini who won the Byron Nelson Championship in May and yesterday, after bogeying the first and fifth, surged back into form with seven birdies, including two back-to-backs on the third and fourth and seventh and eighth,

“I’ve been hitting the ball well and just haven’t been able to score and ultimately in golf it’s not how you hit it, it’s how you score.

“These things tend to break out of their cycles and it was nice to get out today and actually have a nice fun, relaxing round.”

Sabbatini, who right now is 35th in the play-off standings, needs a strong finish here to get among the 30 players who will go through to the Tour Championship next week, where a $10 million bonus awaits the play-off points champion.

At 26th in the standings, Marino is also standing on shaky ground, but the 29-year-old, after a slow start, gave himself every chance of making next week’s grand finale by posting six birdies as against his one dropped shot.

He collecting five birdies over the final 11 holes for his 66 on the tough par-71 Dubsdread Course at Coghill Golf and Country Club

“I’m trying to treat this like any other tournament, because if you start number crunching in your mind, that’s probably not going to be a very good thing,” he said.

Woods, who currently lies second in the FedEx Cup points standings, is assured of his place in the finale, and was pleased with his four-birdie, one-bogey first round here.

“I hit the ball well,” the world number one said. “I think anything under par is a really good score.”

Harrington, who failed to convert winning positions into victory at both of the first two play-off tournaments, said he was lucky to escape with a bogey-free round.

“In terms of scoring, it was steady but it was far from steady on the course,” he said after his three-birdie 68. “I was a bit erratic at times out there.

“I struggled to focus, so it needs to be better over the next three days. I certainly won’t get away with what I got away with today.”

Ian Poulter and Anthony Kim were among eight players tied for 11th on two-under while Poulter’s countryman Luke Donald was a shot further back.

Ernie Els was among the stragglers as he hit five bogeys in a four-over-par 75.

American Ryder Cup winners JB Holmes and Kenny Perry also endured bad days and were seven and six over par respectively.

(USA unless stated, par 71):

66 Steve Marino, Rory Sabbatini (RSA)

67 Marc Leishman (Aus), Bo Van Pelt

68 Tiger Woods, David Toms, Geoff Ogilvy (Aus), Camilo Villegas (Col), John Mallinger, Padraig Harrington (Irl)

69 Bubba Watson, Charles Howell III, Mark Wilson, Dustin Johnson, Anthony Kim, Ian Poulter (Eng), Brandt Snedeker, Jonathan Byrd

70 Nick Watney, John Senden (Aus), Heath Slocum, Webb Simpson, Chad Campbell, Sean O’Hair, Jim Furyk, Bryce Molder, Luke Donald (Eng), Scott Verplank

71 Brian Davis (Eng), Sergio Garcia (Spa), Matt Kuchar, Jason Day (Aus), Phil Mickelson, Charlie Wi (Kor), Bill Haas, Jason Bohn, Y.E. Yang (Kor), Ryan Moore

72 Steve Stricker, Pat Perez, Retief Goosen (RSA), Jeff Overton, Stewart Cink, Kevin Na, Fredrik Jacobson (Swe), Mike Weir (Can)

73 Charley Hoffman, Zach Johnson, Brian Gay, Angel Cabrera (Arg), Hunter Mahan, Nathan Green (Aus), John Rollins, Justin Leonard

74 Jason Dufner, Paul Goydos, Lucas Glover, Davis Love III

75 Ben Crane, Robert Allenby (Aus), Ernie Els (RSA), Kevin Sutherland