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For Van Pelt and Casey, no time like the playoffs to get the game in good shape

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PARAMUS, N.J. - Bo Van Pelt began the FedEx Cup playoffs by going fishing for stripers, which is not unusual for a guy living in Oklahoma.

Except that he was casting his line into the East River.

Presumably it was a little farther out from Manhattan. And no, Van Pelt did not eat what he caught.

"It was fun," he said. "A buddy of mine invited me, so I was like, 'I've got to take you up on that.' ... Maybe that was my good luck charm for the week."

The real fishing trip began Thursday at Ridgewood Country Club, and Van Pelt snagged four birdies and an eagle, purely in the golfing sense. That was easy to digest because Van Pelt was in dire need of a good start at The Barclays.

Just over a month ago, he wasn't sure he would be among the top 125 to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, and thus keep his card. His game began to turn around with a couple of good finishes, and he started at No. 104. Only the top 100 advance to next week.

Van Pelt opened with three straight birdies, followed with 12 straight pars, and then went birdie-eagle-par for a 6-under 65 and a one-shot lead.

"As poorly as I played at the start of the year, I'm just kind of glad to be here," Van Pelt said. "Things have been trending in a lot better direction. So I felt fortunate to be here with the position I was in three months ago. I just felt like if I kept doing what I was doing, hopefully I would at least get to next week and then kind of cross that bridge when I got there."

No one was trending more than Rory McIlroy, who finally looked human in the first round.

McIlroy went wire-to-wire to win the British Open, giving him three legs of the career Grand Slam. He was right back to work a few days later, and then staged a comeback to win his first World Golf Championship. He went straight to Valhalla and won the PGA Championship, making the 25-year-old from Northern Ireland the third-youngest player in history with four majors.

Finally, he took a week off to have fun and celebrate his blockbuster summer.

And he paid for it. McIlroy felt out of sorts and opened with a 74, his highest start in two months. He was nine shots behind. And he wasn't worried. As the No. 1 player in the world, and the No. 1 seed, he is assured a spot in the Tour Championship for the top 30 players.

McIlroy wasn't about to lay down, either. He headed for the range to get his game back, which he'll need to make the cut on Friday.

"Fatigue isn't playing a part," he said. "It's I think just not putting the time in that I probably should have over the past week. And I think I allowed myself that and deserved that. But this is the consequence of it and I need to work hard this afternoon and go out tomorrow and shoot a good number."

Van Pelt wasn't the only player who started well.

Paul Casey is No. 118 with a lot on his mind — specifically the birth of his first child in two weeks — and played bogey-free at Ridgewood to join seven other players at 66.

Casey hasn't had a top 10 on the PGA Tour all season and didn't make it into the playoffs with much room to spare. He's not sure how long he'll be around, although a solid start was sure to help.

"I think today was probably a product of really not having really any expectations and just going out there and smashing it around and having fun," Casey said.

Brendon Todd had a breakthrough year with his first victory in the Byron Nelson Championship. Even so, he is hoping U.S. captain Tom Watson is giving him a look as a pick for the Ryder Cup, so a 66 was sure to help.

And then there's Hunter Mahan. He still harbours hopes for being picked for the Ryder Cup team. Mahan also has a streak going like no other — he is the only player to compete in every playoff event since the FedEx Cup began in 2007. At No. 62 in the standings, he needs a big month to get to Atlanta for the Tour Championship.

The top 70 make it to Denver for the third playoff event, and the top 30 get to East Lake for the Tour Championship.

"It will be a bonus to make it to Atlanta and it will be a bonus right now to make the Ryder Cup team," Mahan said. "So I have nothing to be nervous about or get out there and doubt myself. I have to trust myself because everything I'm doing is good and everything else will kind of take care of itself."

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