It’s the PGA Tour’s version of the “playoffs,’’ so you were probably expecting the best of the best — the biggest and brightest stars — to adorn the top of the Northern Trust leaderboard after Thursday’s opening round at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J.
That’s perfectly understandable with the presence of Tiger Woods, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and two-time 2018 major winner Brooks Koepka among the litany of power brokers in the field.
But part of the beauty (and sometimes curse) of sports is that sometimes you get the unexpected — like, in this case, Kevin Tway, who’s one of the leaders through the first 18 holes of this four-day event with a 66.
Tway is tied with Jamie Lovemark, Vaughn Taylor and Sean O’Hair, three other unlikely leaders, at 5-under.
Koepka, fresh off his PGA Championship victory, and Johnson are among a long list of players at 4-under that also includes Hideki Matsuyama, Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey and Kevin Na.
Tiger Woods, who finished runner-up to Koepka at the PGA, shot a nondescript even-par 71 to stand five shots out of the lead. Phil Mickelson, after a hot start to 2-under early, shot 3-under 68 despite hitting only three fairways.
But it was Tway, the 30-year-old son of former PGA Tour player Bob Tway (an eight-time winner including the 1986 PGA Championship), who stood out as an unlikely early leader. Given his results — 88 PGA Tour starts without a victory — the younger Tway would be an even more unlikely winner come Sunday night.
Tway, who’s ranked 130th in the world and is 85th on the FedEx Cup points list, has only one professional win, which came in 2013 at the Albertsons Boise Open on the Web.com Tour, in a playoff.
He has been trending, in somewhat good form this year with a tie for ninth at the Byron Nelson, a tie for fifth at the Fort Worth Invitational, a tie for sixth at the Travelers, a tie for 17th at the Canadian Open and a tie foe 11th at the Wyndham Championship last week.
So Tway is not unaccustomed to playing well in spurts and putting himself in contention.
He said he talks to his dad “every day.’’
Asked what his dad would think about his Thursday 66, Tway said: “He will like that I hit 10 fairways. I remember him watching last week one round [in the Wyndham], I wasn’t hitting fairways and my mom said he was on the bed cussing, like, ‘Just hit the fairway, it’s not that hard.’
“So he’ll be proud that I hit a few more fairways than last week.’’
Asked if his dad is more supportive or critical, Tway said, “Both.’’
“He wants the best for sure, but he’s very critical,’’ he said. “He can tell what’s going through my mind just by watching the shot tracker [on the computer]. We talk every night. He knows my swing probably better than anyone. So we talk about it every day.
“I always have him right here on my shoulder. He’s almost like a caddie out there. I’m always like, ‘What would he do here?’ Stuff like that.’’
He said he often consults his dad about his dad’s career, saying, “We talk about it a lot — what he felt in certain situations, how he went about winning golf tournaments. I pick his brain a lot. He played at the highest level for 30 years, so it’s a good tool to have.’’
Now, if Bob Tway can just help get his son over the line and into the winner’s circle on a Sunday. That could certainly change the narrative of Kevin Tway’s career, which has included just two starts as a pro in major championships — a tie for 60th in the 2014 U.S. Open and missed cut at the 2016 U.S. Open.
“It can change completely,’’ Tway said of a big week at Ridgewood. “I remember a few years ago, Morgan Hoffmann came in at [No.] 124 and went all the way to the Tour Championship. That’s kind of the plan, try to play as good as you can and go as far as you can. The playoffs can make up your whole season.’’