Justin Rose, Jim Furyk open strong

LEMONT, Ill. -- As the reigning FedEx Cup champion, Jim Furyk clearly wants to get to Atlanta next week. He'd like the opportunity to defend his Tour Championship title. Although a longshot, he obviously would enjoy the idea of repeating as FedEx champ and banking another $10 million.

But in order to get there, he has to do well here. Which presents a bit of a dilemma.

Most golfers, especially the prominent ones, know they set themselves up for trouble when they dangle secondary goals that are less than the ultimate prize for any player.

So does Furyk take a peek to see what he needs to do at Cog Hill? Or does he simply go out with the idea of winning the BMW Championship, in which case everything takes care of itself?

"I'm not sure what that spot is; and I won't check," Furyk said after a 3-under-par 68 on Thursday left him in a tie for fifth, four strokes behind leader Justin Rose. "I want to go out and play as well as I can. As the week goes on, they start giving you projections... But if I knew I had to finish 18th to advance, it's the wrong process to go out there and think about finishing 18th.

"The idea is we tee it up every week and try to play the best with what you've got. We're ultimately trying to win golf tournaments and jockey for position."

Furyk is not interested in knowing where he stands, but if he looked, he'd find that at 35th in the FedEx Cup standings, he needs a finish of at least 11th in the 70-player BMW Championship field to advance to next week's Tour Championship, in which only the top 30 compete for the $10 million bonus.

So far, so good.

Rose is in a similar predicament. The two-time PGA Tour winner from England had endured a rather frustrating season that saw some early top-10s followed by a summer without anything better than a tie for 15th until he tied for sixth three weeks ago at the Barclays.

That put Rose in a position to advance in the playoffs, and he entered the BMW a spot ahead of Furyk, in 34th place, needing at least a 12th-place finish to reach Atlanta.

And yet, that was hardly on his mind as Rose played what he said was his round of the year.

"I didn't know what I needed to do," he said. "The mindset I've got is I've got nothing to lose this week. That's my strategy. That's my attitude. Right now I'm not going to Atlanta. I've got everything to gain this week. That's really the way I'm seeing it. Guys who are 26, 27, 28, 29 who have played well all year, they might be pretty tense this week because they feel they deserve to be in Atlanta, et cetera, et cetera. For me, I still feel like I can make it a great year."

The top 21 players in the FedEx Cup standings entering the BMW are assured of advancing. That means there are nine spots for the remaining 49 players, and both Furyk and Rose put themselves in position to advance.

If nothing else, Rose can reflect on an excellent round, one that saw him hit all 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens. He made nine birdies and just a single bogey on a Cog Hill course that has, ironically, suffered its share of bashing after a renovation by course architect Rees Jones in 2008.

And yet, on a day that saw temperatures start in the low 40s, there were still 25 players who broke par.

"It's very, very tough to play," Rose said. "There's no faking it out there. You've got to go out and play good golf. You can't really get away with too much on this golf course.

"My mindset was to respect the golf course and to go out there and just fairways-and-greens it. That sounds simple. I didn't expect to do that and make nine birdies for sure. I felt like if you could keep it around par today, it would have been a pretty solid start to the golf tournament."

Furyk, too, was pleased with his opening 18, and he has to be happy about how far he has come in a month. A three-time winner last year, Furyk at one point missed four straight cuts in 2011 and went 13 consecutive tournaments without a top 10.

He was 70th in the FedEx Cup standings after the PGA Championship and has moved into position to make it back to Atlanta with a tie for ninth at the Wyndham Championship and a sixth at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Furyk switched drivers and putting styles last month at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and has gradually seen progress.

"At that point, I had nothing to lose," he said. "I really wasn't [in] good shape on the money list, the FedEx Cup. I wasn't really doing that well, and I had nothing to lose and just felt like I was trying something new almost every week. It felt like I needed to commit to something."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.