NORTON — When he was growing up in the game of golf as a youngster in Seoul, South Korea, Seung-Yul Noh idolized a number of American stars. But there was really only one name at the top of his list.
“I think every junior golfer [was] same, Tiger,’’ said Noh, who now counts Tiger Woods as a working colleague as a 21-year-old rookie on the PGA Tour. “That’s why him over Jack Nicklaus. And he’s still playing good. I think average junior golfer’s hero is Tiger.’’
Noh, who found himself mistakenly confused for Kevin Na by the American followers in his sparse gallery on Friday, led his boyhood idol, Woods, by two strokes after shooting an impressive 9-under-par 62 to claim the first-round lead of the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston.
Noh separated himself from Woods, Jeff Overton and Ryan Moore when he birdied the last two holes with a 40-foot putt on No. 17 and a 5½-footer on No. 18 to finish his round at 31-31—62.
Noh took a one-stroke lead over Chris Kirk, who started on No. 10 and eagled No. 18 to jump start a string of birdies on four of his next seven holes. Kirk, 27, of Knoxville, Tenn., sank a 15-foot birdie on No. 7 to pull within one stroke of the lead, but missed a birdie attempt on No. 8 and had to save par on No. 9 to finish at 8-under (32-31).
Woods (32-32) made six consecutive birdies and went from a three-stroke lead over the field to a three-way tie for third with Overton (34-30) and Moore (30-34). Rory McIlroy (33-32) and Bryce Molder (34-31) were tied for sixth, three strokes back at 6-under.
Noh matched his career low round of 62 in the 2009 Malaysian Open and surpassed by three strokes his PGA low round of 65, which he accomplished three times this season, most recently in the final round of the PGA Championship.
It left him one shot shy of tying the course record (10-under 61) set by Vijay Singh in 2006 and matched by Mike Weir in 2008.
Noh, who shot a final-round 71 to finish tied for 67th at the Barclays last weekend at Bethpage Black, credited his sudden turnaround to his methodical work with Woods’s swing coach, Sean Foley.
“I think [the] swing is best today,’’ said Noh, speaking in halting English. “I got a little bit of a change of swing every day, so I start working with Sean Foley in May, so a little bit of change in swing, but that’s good work today. I think pretty good golf swing today.’’
Woods, for his part, also did some fine work out on the course.
He strung together six consecutive birdies and led the field by three shots at 8-under before Overton went on a birdie binge of his own with six on his last seven holes, including five in a row, to grab a share of the early clubhouse lead at 7-under midway through the first round.
Asked how he explained going from a final-round 76 at the Barclays to a first-round 64 Friday at TPC Boston, Woods said, “Well, one, I wasn’t playing that bad. That’s the thing people don’t really realize, is that Saturday [at the Barclays] I had four three-putts, [so] I would’ve been right there. And then Sunday I was battling back and forth early and finally just kind of lost it at the end, but I was just hanging in there that round.”
Showing no ill effects from the back issue that nagged him last weekend, Woods hit 10 of 14 fairways, 16 of 18 greens in regulation, and made 28 putts, including 13 on his final nine holes. His longest putt was a 19-footer for birdie on No. 13, his fourth hole of the day after starting on No. 10.
Asked if he played as well as he scored Friday at TPC Boston, a par 71 tract that spans 7,216 yards, Woods said, “I did. I hit the ball well enough to probably shoot maybe one or two more. I missed a couple of putts out there. But also I made my share from outside 15-20 feet as well.’’
When Woods bogeyed his last hole, No. 9, it opened the door for Overton, 29, of Evansville, Ind., when he chipped to within inches for a birdie on his last hole, No. 18.
“The last hole was probably one of the best chip shots I’ve ever hit in my life’’ said Overton, who entered the DBC ranked 83d in the FedEx Cup points and needs to finish 37th or better to qualify for the penultimate PGA playoff event at Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind. “Hit it over the green, short-side left, and hit a flop chip shot that landed 12-15 feet right of the hole in the fringe and then kicked over like a yo-yo right towards the hole and almost made it — to like two inches.”
It was a wild first-round at TPC Boston, which ended with Noh atop the leaderboard, two shots ahead of his boyhood idol.
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.