AP Sports Writer
CARMEL, Ind. -- Bo Van Pelt knows how to play golf in his home state.
Three days after he was left off the U.S. Ryder Cup team, the 37-year-old Van Pelt shot an 8-under 64 in the first round of the BMW Championship and was tied with three others for the lead.
Playing his first round as a professional in Indiana, Van Pelt appeared to savor every moment with the family and friends who followed him around Crooked Stick. The crowd increased as his scores dropped.
"I’ve waited 13 years to come back and play a professional tournament here, so it’s nice not to shoot 80 or something," said Van Pelt, who grew up in Richmond, about 85 miles east of the tournament site. "Never had a chance to play in Indiana before, it’s a big deal for me. I want to play well."
Dressed in gray slacks, an Indiana red polo shirt with gray stripes and a white hat bearing the name of the real estate company where his sister works, Van Pelt took advantage of an uncommonly tame course. Wednesday’s heavy rain softened the greens, and the average score was 69.47.
Van Pelt birdied Nos. 1, 2, 4, 7 and 9 and made the turn in 31.
It was the best score on the front side all day.
"Stay aggressive, that’s what I kept telling myself as I was making birdies early, just to keep going," Van Pelt said. "I knew if it seemed like it was easy playing for me, it was probably playing easy for anybody."
Van Pelt played with U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, who also made eight birdies and no bogeys for a 64. Rory McIlroy and Graham DeLaet also were tied for the lead.
Van Pelt and Simpson will play together again Friday morning.
"I didn’t realize he was from here until the first tee when I heard all the people erupt," said Simpson, who lives in North Carolina. "I get two home events myself and I know what it feels like to play well. He had a great day."
Van Pelt felt it should have been better. He missed birdie chances from inside 10 feet on Nos. 13, 14 and 15 before closing the round with a birdie on the 457-yard, par-4 18th.
With Van Pelt (No. 20) almost assured of one of the 30 spots in the FedEx Cup finale at Atlanta, there’s only one thing that would make this weekend more memorable: A win in front of the home-state fans.
And Van Pelt knows it will take three more days like Thursday to accomplish that feat.
"There’s so many guys playing well that are in this tournament, guys like Rory and Dustin (Johnson) and Tiger (Woods), guys that hit it a long way, that this golf course is going to set up good for them," Van Pelt said. "I thought 20-under was probably about right (to win it)."
The other Indiana golfer didn’t fare nearly as well.
Indiana University graduate Jeff Overton finished with a 2-over 74 and is tied for 62nd.
SCORING HELP: Wet weather is forcing some significant changes to the tourney format.
Wednesday’s heavy rain created excessively muddy conditions, so tourney officials announced Thursday morning that players would be permitted to clean their balls between the tee box and greens, a move players overwhelmingly endorsed.
"I think I would have shot 80 if we played it down," Simpson said. "I’ve never seen that much mud on the ball. The greens held up well, they’re rolling great and we’re probably going to have to play it up again tomorrow."
That decision will not be made until Friday morning, which is starting earlier than anticipated, too.
With the forecast calling for scattered afternoon thunderstorms and a 60 percent chance of rain, tourney officials announced that the tee times would be moved up. Originally, the first two threesomes were scheduled to start Friday at 11:15 a.m. Now they will begin at 8 a.m.
TOUGH FINISH: Graeme McDowell was headed for his best score since Bay Hill in March until a bizarre two-shot penalty on his last hole. He was in a bunker, with a branch right behind his ball. His club grazed a leaf attached to the branch, and by the rules, was deemed to have touched a loose impediment in a hazard.
Two-shot penalty. The 66 became a 68.
"Getting into the bunker, my caddie said to me, ‘You know you can’t touch that branch, right?’ I thought he meant I can’t remove that branch," McDowell said. "I just didn’t give it enough respect, and the second that I grazed it, we both knew perhaps we might be in trouble. It was just one of those moments where I’ve never seen that scenario before. It’s a tough lesson."
TOUGH TRIP: Hunter Mahan didn’t hide his disappointment about the Ryder Cup selections Tuesday.
He felt the same way Thursday.
Two days after telling reporters it would be difficult to put aside his emotions this weekend, Mahan opened the first round with a bogey at No. 1, finished the day with a 70 and was tied for 41st in the 70-man field.
"I just felt empty out there," he said. "It was like ‘What am I playing for now?"’
Mahan was one of three big-name players bypassed for the American team, and they flew as a group from Boston to Indianapolis on Monday night.
Shortly after Van Pelt, Mahan and Rickie Fowler arrived in town, each was notified he wouldn’t be representing the U.S.
PRESSURE COOKER: American Kyle Stanley came into the weekend in perhaps the toughest position of the 70 players in the field.
He’s 30th in points in the chase for a chance to play for the $10 million prize in Atlanta.
For the 24-year-old from Gig Harbor, Wash., these are nervous times.
"I look at it every night," he said. "I know I have to have a good week, but I think it’s good for me because most of the year, there hasn’t really been a lot of pressure on me. I feel like my competitive juices are back this week, which is really good."
Thursday’s start should ease some of the tension. He birdied three of the first six holes and wound up with a 4-under 68, good enough to start Friday in a tie for 16th.