NORTON, Mass. -- Before throwing out the first pitch at Fenway Park on Tuesday, Keegan Bradley talked about playing on a PGA Tour dominated by Southern players -- a group, he said, "full of guys from Georgia and Florida." He wasn't kidding. And Saturday, though much of the attention so far this weekend has been draped like a laurel wreath around Bradley's thin neck, after the first wave of golfers finished it was all out-of-towners atop the Deutsche Bank Championship leaderboard.
Bubba Watson, a native of Bagdad, Fla., sat in first at 10 under par after a round of 64. Tennessean Brandt Snedeker was next at 9 under par after carding his own 64. And Rickie Fowler's 67 had the Anaheim, Calif., kid in third at 7 under. But all three, far-flung though they may be, seemed to be enjoying their time in New England.
"The fans have always been great up here," said Fowler, a crowd favorite no matter where he plays. "Up in the Northeast the fans are definitely -- they love sporting events. It's fun to play up here. It's nice to have a good following here."
The 22-year-old had quite a following Saturday morning as he came up the 18th hole. The green was ringed with people sporting Fowler's trademark neon orange, which he wears in honor of Oklahoma State University, his alma mater. One young spectator was covered fully in the color, complete with a Fowler-signed flat-brim Puma hat, the golfer's favored headwear. The fan had a lot to cheer about early, as Fowler got off to a hot start with four birdies on the front nine. He stalled on the back, however, and finished with nine straight pars to come in at 67.
"I got off to a good start on the front nine here," Fowler said. "And then I just kind of, I guess, hit the brakes. I was trying to keep things going but struggled hitting fairways, and obviously it's tough making birdies out here and even pars when you're not hitting the fairway."
Also off to a hot start Saturday was Snedeker. Starting on the back nine, he dropped in birdies on the 12th, 13th and 14th holes. Then, after a par on the 15th, Snedeker stepped up to the 161-yard par-3 16th hole and carved a beauty that rolled right into the hole for an ace. The excitement cost him a bogey at the 17th hole, but he responded with an eagle on the 18th and a 1-under front-nine finish that netted him a 64. A bogey on No. 8, Snedeker's second-to-last hole of the day, didn't dampen his mood any -- after the round, the 30-year-old from Nashville said he was still happy to be up in New England for a change.
"The weather up here this time of year is fantastic," Snedeker said. "And the golf courses always seem to be in such good shape because ya'll have such a small window to play golf, so that when it is ready to go it always seems like they are in great shape. And the greens up here, I love the kind of grass you play on, between bent fairways and bent grass greens, they're always in great shape this time of year. So I do love coming up here.
"And the course this weekend is in great shape," he continued. "You'd never know that a hurricane came through here six days ago, it's hard to think about. The course is super fun. The greens are rolling fantastic. It's really, really a testament to the kind of golf course ya'll have up here."
It's not Snedeker's first time to the area -- he said he played a lot of local golf during summers spent on the amateur circuit -- but he always looks forward to coming back.
"I like being up here," he said. "I play a lot of good golf up here. The people up here are real friendly and we have a good time when we're up here. It's great. The fans up here are awesome. They're crazy about their golf, they're crazy about their sports up here. It's exciting for us to get out here and be in the midst of it. You see how passionate they are about Yankees-Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, everything that they have up here, and they kind of bring that passion to golf, too. It's really fun for us to be a part of it."
As for Watson, the 32-year-old University of Georgia alum and early leader at 10 under said he, too, is enjoying his time in New England -- at least for the moment.
"Right now it's great," he said laughing, after a round of 64 that included an eagle on the par-5 seventh hole for the second straight day. "I love [New England golf].
"No, it's different," he said. "We get big trees, there's some good scenery. It's just a fun place to play. Everybody understands the game, everybody treats us well here, so it's nice. The sponsors are really happy to have us here. I've played a few times in Rhode Island, at the CVS [Caremark Charity Classic], so it's always been good here. There are some great places here."
But while he might enjoy a few days up North from time to time, Watson admitted that at heart he's just a good ol' boy from Florida, a Southerner through-and-through.
"[After the tournament], I'm going to go straight home and have a few days on the lake," he said. "And then I'm going to Athens [Ga.] to watch the South Carolina game."
Then, Watson -- who came under fire earlier this summer at the French Open for his ignorance of several famed Parisian monuments -- was asked whether he wanted to talk about his favorite Boston landmarks.
"I don't know any," he said, joking.
"There's a fence or something, isn't there? A green one?"
Tom Lakin is covering this week's Deutsche Bank Championship for ESPNBoston.com.