With no guarantee of playing beyond this week, Van Pelt opened with three straight birdies Thursday at The Barclays and chipped in for eagle late in his round for a 6-under 65 that gave him a one-shot lead in the opener of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Van Pelt is No. 104 in the FedEx Cup. Only the top 100 advance to the next tournament.
Casey is No. 118 with a lot on his mind -- specifically the birth of his first child in two weeks -- and played bogey-free at Ridgewood to join seven other players at 66. That group included Brendon Todd, who is trying to get Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson's attention as a possible wild-card pick; and Hunter Mahan, who at No. 62 is in danger of missing the Tour Championship for the first time since the FedEx Cup began in 2007.
Ridgewood featured some of the deepest rough of the year, though the greens were soft enough to allow for birdies if players could keep it in the fairway. The average score was 70.8, with 44 rounds in the 60s.
Rory McIlroy was not among them.
The Open Championship winner and PGA champion went 13 holes before he made his first birdie and finished with a 74. That ended a streak of 14 straight rounds under par, and it was his highest score in the opening round since a 74 in the Irish Open in June.
Van Pelt, on the other hand, started his year missing seven cuts in nine tournaments before it slowly started to come around over the last month. He felt he was heading in the right direction and received more confirmation Thursday. Van Pelt didn't make a bogey, and finished strong with a 10-foot birdie putt on the 16th and the eagle on the par-5 17th hole that put him in the lead.
"As poorly as I played at the start of the year, I'm just kind of glad to be here," Van Pelt said. "Things have been trending in a lot better direction. So I felt fortunate to be here with the position I was in three months ago. I just felt like if I kept doing what I was doing, hopefully I would at least get to next week and then kind of cross that bridge when I got there."
Casey hasn't had a top 10 on the PGA Tour all season and didn't make it into the playoffs with much room to spare. He's not sure how long he'll be around, although a solid start was sure to help.
"I think today was probably a product of really not having really any expectations and just going out there and smashing it around and having fun," Casey said.
Mahan is the only player to compete in every playoff event since the FedEx Cup began. He is assured of two tournaments, though he needs a good week somewhere to keep alive his hopes of reaching Atlanta for the Tour Championship. The top 70 advance to the third week, and the top 30 get to East Lake for the finale. Plus, he hopes to audition for one of the captain's picks for the Ryder Cup.
"It will be a bonus to make it to Atlanta and it will be a bonus right now to make the Ryder Cup team," Mahan said. "So I have nothing to be nervous about or get out there and doubt myself. I have to trust myself because everything I'm doing is good and everything else will kind of take care of itself."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.