Straka shakes out of slump, grabs early lead

  • Sepp Straka, of Austria, watches his birdie putt on the 18th hole during the second round of the St. Jude Championship golf tournament Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Sepp Straka showed up for the start of the PGA Tour’s postseason and only saw opportunity instead of two months of bad results in his rearview mirror.

Straka had not made it to the weekend since the Memorial in early June. And then he opened the FedEx Cup St. Jude Championship with rounds of 64-66 to take the early lead Friday at the TPC Southwind.

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“Hadn’t played great coming into this week. Missed a bunch of cuts coming in,” Straka said (in his case, “a bunch” would be six in a row). “But that’s golf. You’re going to have the ebbs and flows and just kind go with it.”

And off he went, especially at the end, when he finished with three straight birdies to get to 10 under.

He had a one-shot lead over Denny McCarthy (65), with Brian Harman (66) another shot back. All of them already were safe to be among the top 70 who advance to the second stage of the FedEx Cup playoffs next week in Delaware.

Tony Finau, coming off two straight victories, was among those playing in the afternoon.

Rory McIlroy was among those who likely would not be playing the rest of the week. McIlroy was going along reasonably well until taking bogey from the trees and finishing with a bogey on the par-4 ninth for a 69.

That put him at 1-under 139, and scoring was so good in ideal conditions that making the cut looked to be unlikely.

At least he can afford it as the No. 6 seed. Friday marked the end of the season for some players who miss the cut and either could not move into the top 70 or were probably going to get bumped out.

Straka won the Honda Classic for his first PGA Tour title this year. That got him into the Masters for the first time and he can’t wait to get back.

Reaching the FedEx Cup finale at East Lake might be the ticket, and he’s off to the right kind of start.

He holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-3 14th, got up-and-down for birdie on the par-5 16th and closed with a pair of birdies from the 15-foot range for his 66.

Straka, born and raised in Austria until moving from Vienna to Valdosta, Georgia, as a teenager, never dragged two months of bad golf with him to the course.

“You can’t afford to do that out here,” he said. “The margin’s so small, if you miss some fairways, now you’re starting to play for pars and you can’t really do that. You’ve just got to remind yourself that any one thing can change it the other way.”

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