Evans: Jerry Kelly grinds his way to 66 on Friday

NORTON, Mass. — Shortly after shooting a 5-under 66 in the first round of the Deutsche Bank Championship at the TPC Boston, Jerry Kelly grabbed a handful of Wisconsin cheese slices in the media center before his interview. The 44-year-old Madison, Wis., native is a self-deprecating working-class man, who for the 11th straight year has made more than a million dollars on the PGA Tour.

[+] EnlargeKelly

AP Photo/Stew MilneJerry Kelly stands 70th on the PGA Tour money list so far in 2011 after making just north of $1.1 million. He’s 47th in the FedEx Cup standings coming into the Deutsche Bank Championship.

“I struck it pretty poorly today,” Kelly said Friday. “I just kind of got it around. I think my mental state was definitely my best asset out there today.”

Kelly and Charl Schwartzel are one shot back of Troy Matteson, who had a 6-under 65 to grab the early clubhouse lead.

“I didn’t really have much on the tee balls except for getting them in the fairways, and my irons weren’t were crisp,” said Kelly, who ranks 24th on the PGA Tour career money list at just under $23 million. “I got her around the golf course with a not-so-perfect swing.”

That’s been the story of Kelly’s 15-year PGA Tour career: a scrappy grinder with a banged-up body who manages every year to eke out enough good paydays and a win here and there to stay in earshot of the elite players on tour.

Coming into this week, he was ranked 47th in the playoff standings after a tie for 24th last week at the Barclays, where he shot a 6-under 65 in the final round. A tie for fourth or better at the Deutsche Bank would secure his place in Atlanta for the Tour Championship, where he last played in 2009 when he won the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the last of his three tour wins.

“Other than the win in ’09,” Kelly said, “it’s really been quite a struggle, health at times. And then when I’m healthy, brain. You never know.”

The former University of Hartford golfer earned two top-10s early in the season, including a third at the Honda Classic in March. But since then, he has had only one other top-10 to go along with eight missed cuts in 22 events. His 66 on Friday marked his ninth straight round in the 60s in a streak that began with his final-round 69 at the PGA Championship.

“I’m not used to missing cuts,” said Kelly, who has battled back, shoulder and knee problems throughout his career. “I’m used to playing like I have the last three weeks. I’m not used to struggling around the cut line.”

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Playing in the morning wave Friday, Kelly had four birdies, a bogey and a chip-in eagle at the par-5 18th hole.

“I’ve been hitting it so well the last three weeks that I don’t know if I was really hitting it poorly, but I just — I’ve been so used to flushing it,” he said.

Kelly has a special motivation to play well this week. Last year, after missing the cut at the Barclays, he didn’t qualify for the three remaining FedEx Cup playoff events.

“I don’t like missing anything,” Kelly said. “I don’t like missing Atlanta, I don’t like missing majors. But it happens, and I try my best not to let it happen again.”

Grinding and grimacing even with a hearty satisfied smile after a gritty 66. That’s Jerry Kelly’s way, and it could serve him well this week.

Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at evans.espn@gmail.com

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