Rich Schultz, Associated Press
EDISON, N.J. — Everything about Matt Kuchar's final stroke of the second round looked so routine.
He rapped in a 4-footer for par and signed for a 6-under 65, keeping his name atop the leaderboard at The Barclays.
And there it stayed when Dustin Johnson failed to convert a 7-foot birdie putt on his last hole on the other side of the golf course Friday, leaving him one shot behind. Later in the day, Vijay Singh two-putted for par from 40 feet and was one shot back.
Only later did that sequence take on greater importance.
The players knew at that point, the opening FedEx Cup playoff event would be reduced to 54 holes because of Hurricane Irene. The plan was to play the third round early Saturday with hopes of getting it in before the storm arrives.
If they don't finish, the event would revert to a 36-hole tournament.
And a shaky forecast, with some rain possible before the final round begins, could leave Kuchar as a winner of The Barclays for the second straight year, and make him an early contender for the $10 million FedEx Cup prize.
"The best players generally come out winners after 72, so for me, I feel like the more golf we play, the better my chances," said Kuchar, who was at 14-under 128. "But given the situation, I love being on top of the leaderboard with 18 holes to go. Hard to find something to complain about with the situation I'm in. Yeah, I'm quite happy that I've got this opportunity. I just feel like we've got one last round to go."
Despite missing birdie putts inside 10 feet on his last three holes — including a three-putt par on the 16th — Johnson had a 63 and would figure to have an advantage on soft Plainfield Country Club with his power. Singh, who has gone 67 events on the PGA Tour without winning, wound up with eight birdies in his round of 64 to put himself in the mix.
"I'm pretty happy with my position," Singh said. "I would have loved to be in the lead in case we don't play."
Equally important is what's going on at the bottom of the FedEx Cup standings.
Padraig Harrington (124) and William McGirt (125) were the last two players to qualify for the playoffs. Harrington had a 67 and was at 10 under. McGirt had a 69 and was another shot behind.
That put them in great shape not only to be among the top 100 who advance to the second playoff event next week in Boston, it gives them a head start on making it to the third event in Chicago.
Ernie Els (5 under) and Ian Poulter (4 under) were still projected outside the top 100, but they could help themselves get to Boston with a solid round Saturday, assuming golf is played.
And then there's Ben Crane, who missed the cut, but still would advance (projected at No. 99) unless the third round is completed.
This isn't the kind of drama the PGA Tour envisioned for the start of these playoffs.
Then again, no one imagined The Barclays would start the week with the ground shaking from an earthquake, and end with the first playoff event to be reduced to 54 holes because of a hurricane.
What helped is that only 72 players made the cut at 4-under 138, which at least makes for a quicker third round.
Plainfield already had received about 10 inches of rain the past two weeks and 10 more were expected Sunday. There also were safety issues. Crews began dismantling electronic scoreboards Friday afternoon and an army of volunteers from the area had to make their own plans to evacuate, if necessary.
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