The best in the game of golf showed up in a big way Thursday in the first round of the 2021 BMW Championship at Caves Valley. The leaderboard after 18 holes is littered with superstars as Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are joined at the top by Sam Burns after all three shot 8-under 64 on Thursday in Round 1.
The trio is playing with multiple end goals in mind at Caves Valley, and all three have had interesting seasons to date. Coincidentally, they have also won exactly one tournament so far this season. Only one, though, hit the shot of the day Thursday with the first round nearly complete.
We'll dive a little deeper into their rounds as well as who's chasing (a lot of other stars!) at the BMW Championship with 54 holes left to go in the second round of the 2021 FedEx Cup Playoffs.
T1. Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Sam Burns (-8): There are a lot to cover here. Let's start with Burns, who has played quite well this year (12th in FedEx Cup standings) and could be playing for a spot on the Ryder Cup team this weekend. If he goes on to win, he'll likely jump up in the No. 10-12 range, and he would be difficult to keep off the team. He also might be a menace, and the U.S. side doesn't have enough menaces. He was second from tee to green on Thursday and has the best mustache in the sport.
Rahm's round was unsurprising. It's getting difficult to properly contextualize what he has normalized. Let's put it this way: He gained over 5 strokes on one of the best fields of the year with a 64 in Round 1 and co-leads, but the performance was only slightly better than what his average round has been over the last two months. If he doesn't win one of these three playoff events, that would be a shocker.
McIlroy's 64 was certainly more surprising than that of Rahm. He said earlier this week that he's mentally and physically spent from grinding over the last 15 months. Then he went out and shot a 64 that included a 3-wood that like three players on the planet can hit with regularity in an actual event. While watching the highlight after his rounds, he said, "That's as good as I can hit a 3-wood." From 287 yards to 11 feet, it was absolutely the shot of the day at this event.
Sometimes, it seems like McIlroy is helped when he's mentally worn down a bit because he's just going out and leaning on his talent. And while that can bite him at major championships where the margins are extraordinarily thin, it can work out nicely at regular PGA Tour events. I'm intrigued to see where the rest of the week goes for him as he tries to hang on to a spot in the Tour Championship -- he came in 28th in the FedEx Cup standings, and the top 30 make it to East Lake next week -- and win his second event of the year.
4. Sergio Garcia (-7): Of course, Garcia found his putter and is beginning to play well with the Ryder Cup on deck. Of course, of course. He is for sure going 2-1-1 at Whistling Straits, and given how he's been hitting it for the last few months (12th in the field from tee to green over his last 20 rounds), he could legitimately contend if the putter stays halfway decent for the duration (top 10 in putting in Round 1). He made a meaningful leap from No. 44 in the FedEx Cup standings to No. 26 as things stand right now. Obviously, that will change in the days ahead, but it shows you where he has to land if he wants to play at East Lake.
T5. Abraham Ancer, Patrick Cantlay (-6): Here's why round-to-round strokes-gained data matters. Cantlay gained over six strokes on the field with his putter -- he made nine putts from 9 feet or longer, including two from 24 feet or longer -- but was one of the worst iron players on Thursday in Round 1. Now, you can look at those numbers from totally different angles, but they still tell a story for what he's going to do in Round 2. Cantlay, by the way, is low-key lurking to win these FedEx Cup Playoffs. He's currently fourth and in line to get a lot of strokes next week at East Lake.
T7. Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Hideki Matsuyama, Dustin Johnson and seven others (-5): There are a lot of huge names in this T7 position, and most of them have intriguing narratives to follow to the very end of this event. Finau is trying to win consecutive events after going over five years without a win. Simpson is trying to sneak his way into the Tour Championship after coming into the week at No. 52 (he's currently 38th). Keegan Bradley is also trying to jump into that top 30 (he went from 32nd to 28th based on this first round). Lastly, D.J. is trying to win back-to-back FedEx Cup trophies (and pocket $30 million) in the process. After this first round, he's moved up to 17th in the standings, which gets him at least within striking distance of where he'll need to start next week to have a real chance.
There is a lot going at Caves Valley, and even though players are mostly worn down this time of year, so much of it is tremendously exciting. Bubble boys for East Lake, Ryder Cup threads and, oh yeah, crowning a champion at one of the better events of the second half of this season. Come back for more fun on Friday for Round 2 of the BMW Championship as we cover it here at CBS Sports.