Spieth leads Travelers with his best opening round
June 22, 2017
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Jordan Spieth extended highlights | Round 1 | TravelersIn the opening round of the 2017 Travelers Championship, Jordan Spieth shoots the lowest round of the day to take the clubhouse lead at 7-under.
CROMWELL, Conn. – Notes and observations from Thursday’s first round of the Travelers Championship, where Jordan Spieth birdied the 18th hole for a 7-under 63 and a one-stroke lead over Johnson Wagner and Brett Stegmaier. Graham DeLaet and Troy Merritt were two back. For more coverage from TPC River Highlands, click here for the Daily Wrap-up.
SPIETH LOVING THE TRAVELERS
Jordan Spieth had never found a way to fit the Travelers into his schedule, even though he’d heard good things about TPC River Highlands. When he finally got here earlier this week, Michael Greller, his caddie, told him the course was “tailor made for you.”
It didn’t take long for Spieth to figure out what everyone was talking about, as he rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt at the first hole and zoomed to the top with a 63 in the afternoon.
“That one going in on the first was big for me,” Spieth said, “and then I made one on the fourth that was a putt that required a lot of precision, kind of a right-edge putt. If you get it started outside it misses, inside it could break off, and I thought when that one went in is when I really started to feel good with the putter.”
Spieth has been hot and cold with that club this season. He won at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but he also shot a final-round 75 to tie for 11th at the Masters and missed the cut at THE PLAYERS Championship. He made the cut at the U.S. Open but never really contended (T35). After finishing second in strokes gained: putting last year—and ninth in that stat during his breakout 2015 season—Spieth had dropped to 40th this season.
That all looked irrelevant Thursday.
Not normally one to thrive on poa annua greens, Spieth said he came into the week with modest expectations, which may have freed him up to putt better. He hit 15 greens in regulation and took 27 strokes on the greens, racking up a commendable 105’ 3’’ of putts made.
“I'm going to do what I've been doing tee to green,” Spieth said. “That's the idea. Stay focused tee to green, don't try and do too much out here because you get yourself 15 putts. Like I said yesterday, you get yourself 15 putts, they're bound to go in at some point.”
WAGNER IN FAMILIAR TERRITORY
Johnson Wagner feels almost like a local at the Travelers, as well he should. He grew up in the scenic Hudson Valley, in Garrison, New York, less than two hours west of TPC River Highlands.
“We moved to New York in the summer of '94, and my brother and I drove over here as soon as we moved,” Wagner said. “This was really the first PGA TOUR event I ever came to.”
The comforts of home, or near home, seemed to soothe Wagner on Thursday as he took just 24 putts and ranked first in strokes gained: putting. It was a pleasant surprise for the 37-year-old who came into this week 140th in the FedExCup standings and trying to break a streak of five straight missed cuts.
“Man, it’s been a while since I’ve been in the red like this,” he said. “It feels really good.”
Wagner made seven birdies and one bogey, then mentioned the 2015 Shell Houston Open. That was where he tied for second, losing in a three-man playoff (J.B. Holmes, Jordan Spieth) just a week after shooting an opening 87 and missing the cut at the Valero Texas Open.
“I know how quickly things can turn around,” Wagner said. He chipped in at the first hole to kick-start his round Thursday. The big key, other than his short game? He shaved his mustache.
“I think I missed maybe seven of eight cuts with it,” he said, “so something had to change.”
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Jordan Spieth's tight approach is the Shot of the Day
MCILROY SHOOTS ‘DISAPPOINTING’ 67
Rory McIlroy came into the week at 69th in the FedExCup after making just seven starts due to injury. But he said he liked the tree-lined look of TPC River Highlands, which he calls “my wheelhouse,” and felt ready to kick-start what has so far been an unremarkable season.
He almost did on Thursday, but walked away with a “disappointing” 67.
“I feel like I could have been at least three or four better,” said McIlroy, who took 30 putts. “I think I hit five or six putts out there that hit the hole and didn't go in. Just about staying patient. I know the game's there. Feeling good. My tee-to-green game is right where it needs to be.”
McIlroy has had what he calls a “transition year” this season as he’s gotten married and changed his equipment. He didn’t factor in a flare up of his old rib injury, which has limited his competitive starts.
He looked anything but rusty Thursday as he hit 10 of 14 fairways, and 15 of 18 greens in regulation. His average proximity to the hole (24’ 2’’) was third best in the field, but he struggled in his second week with a TaylorMade Spider Tour Red putter.
“I made a decision this week I would give it one more week and see how it performed,” he said. “It's nothing to do with the putter. It's mostly what I'm doing with it.”
CALL OF THE DAY
STEGMAIER CREDITS LOW EXPECTATIONS
Brett Stegmaier started on the back nine and at one point made seven birdies in a nine-hole stretch. He took a tidy 26 putts, ranking third in strokes gained: putting.
Not bad for a 33-year-old journeyman who came into this week ranked a lowly 174th in the FedExCup standings.
“Came in with really low expectations today,” said Stegmaier, who is from nearby Madison, Connecticut, and had missed six of his last seven starts. “I think that certainly helps play a good round, stress-free.”
Stegmaier attended the Travelers as a boy before moving out of state. He played for Florida alongside teammates Matt Every and Billy Horschel, but while Every and Horschel are each multiple TOUR winners, Stegmaier’s progress has been halting. His 64, which came in front of his parents, sister, brother-in-law and his parents’ friends, was a bona fide shocker given that his best result so far this year was a T21 at The RSM Classic. He’s 424th in the world.
He admits he’s been too hard on himself, and thinks his work with mental coach Paul Doolan for the past three months may finally be starting to pay dividends.
“It feels great,” Stegmaier said. “It's been a rough year, obviously. Just nice to take another step in the right direction. It's been coming together the last couple months even though the results haven't really shown it. To shoot a really low round is a big confidence boost.”
ODDS & ENDS
J.J. Henry, who was born in nearby Fairfield but lives in Ft. Worth, Texas, and who won this tournament in 2006, opened with a 2-under 68. The 42-year-old is 127th in the FedExCup standings and coming off a missed cut at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. …
Keegan Bradley, another player with local ties—he grew up in Vermont—shot 67. …
Jim Furyk, coming off a 58 in his most recent competitive round at the Travelers, had struggled with six straight missed cuts this season until he made the cut at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills (T23). He kept trending upward with an opening 67 at TPC River Highlands, a solid start toward improving his FedExCup ranking (137). …
Jason Day took 31 putts and shot a 2-over 72. Almost two years after winning his first major and rising to the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking, he is fourth in the OWGR and 45th in the FedExCup race. …
Justin Thomas, who was coming off a top-10 finish that included a third-round 63 at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, struggled to a 73 while playing with Day and Patrick Reed (67). …
Troy Merritt was tied for the lead but went for the green at the driveable, par-4 15th hole and hooked his tee shot into the water, ultimately making bogey. He was two back after a 65. …
Canada’s Graham DeLaet, who eagled the sixth hole, said he would have attended last year’s Travelers but for the fact that he wanted to attend the Rio Olympics opening ceremony. He hit eight of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens, and took 28 putts.
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