PHOENIX — Round 1 of Jerry Kelly's 72-hole showdown with Scott McCarron went to the Madison golfer Thursday, but projections show that Kelly still has work to do to catch McCarron atop the Charles Schwab Cup standings.
And Kelly wouldn't want it any other way.
His 5-under-par 66 in the Thursday's first round of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship left him halfway between his two goals this week at Phoenix Country Club: Winning the tournament and finishing far enough ahead of McCarron to hoist the Charles Schwab Cup come Sunday afternoon.
Kelly is three shots behind first-round leader Jeff Maggert, who came into the week ranked 31st among the 36 golfers eligible for the season-ending event on PGA Tour Champions. Maggert had nine birdies and one bogey in a 63.
Kelly is also three shots ahead of McCarron, who came into the week with a 170,150-point lead on Kelly in the season-long race for the Schwab Cup. If Kelly, who is tied for sixth, and McCarron, who is tied for 22nd, were to hold their positions through the weekend, Kelly would still come up 23,775 points short of his close friend, whom he has been chasing most of the 2019 season.
"It was a good start," Kelly told reporters after shooting his lowest score in an opening round since a 64 at the U.S. Senior Open in June, when he finished second to fellow Madison golfer Steve Stricker. "I'm happy with it. I haven't been starting that great lately, so to get a good start under the belt, that helps for the momentum."
Paired with McCarron in the first round for the third time in as many playoff events by virtue of being Nos. 1 and 2 in the Schwab Cup standings, Kelly wasted no time in firing the first salvo in their latest battle. He birdied the par-5 first hole and then rattled off three more birdies in a row starting at No. 5 to turn in 4-under 32 — four shots ahead of McCarron, who also birdied Nos. 1 and 5, but bogeyed Nos. 3 and 9 to shoot even-par 36 on the front nine.
Kelly gained another shot when he birdied Nos. 12 and 14 around a McCarron birdie at No. 13. But Kelly saw that five-shot cushion reduced to three after he made his lone bogey at No. 16 and McCarron finished with a birdie on No. 18.
"I got a little tired at the end," Kelly said. "Things got a little loose and I've got to get stronger as the week goes on. ... I actually feel pretty comfortable. I'm feeling pretty good right now. It's just a matter of staying solid."
McCarron was impressed with what he saw of Kelly, who hit 10 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in regulation.
"Jerry played really well," McCarron told reporters. "It was fun to watch him play well. Hopefully, (Friday), I can go out there and make some birdies (and) get back in this thing ... I'm going to have some good rounds out here. I like (the) course. I'm going to go low, so hopefully it will be the next three days."
The 72-hole format, 18 holes longer than most PGA Tour Champions events, lends itself to a lot of excitement over the next three days, Kelly agreed. He was reminded that five-time Schwab Cup champion Bernhard Langer could win his second straight overall title with a victory and a tie for fifth (or worse) by McCarron and a tie for second (or worse) by Kelly.
"It's pretty neat, (but) that's the way you want it; you want some drama," Kelly said before retiring to his new winter home 15 minutes from the course to "cook dinner, crack a little vino and enjoy myself" and rest up for the rest of the long weekend. "For some reason, those (extra) 18 holes, it's an incredible difference. You've got to sprint when it's three (rounds), but four, you're like 'I've got time.' You've got a better percentage of having a low one out of four rounds than you do out of three."