CROMWELL, Conn. – TPC River Highlands seems like a course suited for Zach Johnson’s game.
At 6,848 yards, it’s one of the shortest on the PGA TOUR, a good fit for a player who generally ranks around 150th in driving distance each season.
It produces lots of red numbers – the Travelers Championship winner has finished in double-digits under par every year since 1994. That parallels Johnson’s career. Of his 12 TOUR wins, 11 have been in double digits – nine of those at 15 under or better. That includes his last win in 2015 at the Open Championship.
Plus, Johnson has loved the course ever since he first saw it in 2004. He finished T-3 that year, shooting three rounds of 67 or better. At that time, it would’ve been safe to assume he’d remain a consistent contender at the Travelers.
And yet that’s his best result to date. His only other top 10 was a solo sixth in 2015. In fact, he’s missed the cut more often (three times) than he’s finished in the top 15 (twice).
In his 13th Travelers start, Johnson may finally have cracked the code. His 7-under 63 not only gave him a share of the lead with defending champ Jordan Spieth, it was his lowest score in 43 career rounds at TPC River Highlands.
Afterward, he spoke about being humbled by a course he thoroughly enjoys.
“I feel like every time I get here, it just feels like I should shoot nothing – and it bites me,” Johnson said. “The last couple of years, I’m like, all right, you can’t have any expectations in that regard. You’ve just got to go out and execute.”
He certainly did that Thursday, especially during a back-nine stretch in which he reeled off six consecutive birdies. Three of his birdie putts were outside 15 feet and he also had a birdie on the front nine from 32 feet.
The putter was definitely dialed in. So was his accuracy, as he hit 11 of 14 fairways. That’s a welcomed sign for a player generally regarded among the most accurate on TOUR. He entered this week ranked 86th in accuracy, but that’s balanced by the fact he’s averaging 289.7 yards off the tee. If he maintains that pace, it would be a career high.
The added length has forced Johnson to adjust the makeup of his clubs. Last week at the U.S. Open, he put four wedges in his bag due to the variance in his yardages. He’s using four wedges again this week.
“I don’t think I’m going to be looking back,” Johnson said, “because it feels pretty good right now.”
Especially after a 63.
Brooks Koepka shot a 2-under 68 – impressive considering he’s gotten little sleep since winning his second straight U.S. Open on Sunday. He was at 4 under until suffering two bogeys in his last three holes. “I just ran out of gas,” said Koepka, whose only prep work this week was a range session Wednesday. “I’m exhausted mentally. I’m excited to go home and nap.” Koepka didn’t return to his home until early Monday morning. A few hours later, Dustin Johnson came over. “Dustin was in my living room at 8. He came over on the boat to say hi,” Koepka said. “So It was not as much rest as I would have liked.”
No surprise that Beau Hossler is among the first-round leaders after his 5-under 65. The rookie ranks third on the PGA TOUR in first-round scoring average. Six times in his previous 21 starts, he’s been inside the top 10 after the first round. But he’s failed to capitalize on those with a breakthrough win. “Looking back on it, I didn’t really realize, but there were some rounds where I was pretty exhausted,” Hossler said, specifically citing his last two starts at Colonial and Muirfield Village. He doesn’t think it will be an issue this week. “Didn’t play golf for eight days,” he said, “and I’m feeling really refreshed.”
Jason Day made an equipment change this week, discarding the TaylorMade P730 blades – which he had switched to at the Masters – and going back to his previous P750s. So far, so good after a 66. “I’m able to hit ‘em both ways now,” Day said. “I was struggling a little bit with the blades to hit it left to right. Trying to get that fade.”
Peter Malnati was a pedestrian even par through 10 holes. Then he holed out from the greenside bunker at 11 for birdie. He followed with three more birdies and an eagle at the drivable par-4 15th (his tee shot landed inside 4 feet) to shoot 29 coming in. “It’s cool to see how quickly it can turn around,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it surprises me, but it’s certainly fun when it happens.”
FedExCup leader Justin Thomas said he was “in a weird mood today. I couldn't really get into it. I slept for a while last night, and I kind of had a hard time getting out of that grogginess.” He eventually did, shooting a 4-under 66 fueled by a hole-out for eagle from the greenside bunker at the par-5 sixth.
QUOTABLESI don’t even know where we left it, to be honest with you.
You look like Billy Joel, by the way.“I was about 260 yards away, so you can't really learn a whole lot from that far away.”
Lowest round – The 7-under 63s by Zach Johnson (morning finisher) and Jordan Spieth (afternoon finisher)
Hardest hole – The 462-yard par-4 10th, playing to a stroke average of 4.321. Just 14 birdies against 46 bogeys and nine others.
Easiest hole – The 575-yard par-5 sixth, playing to a stroke average of 4.442. Nine eagles were made (79 birdies) against just four bogeys and two doubles.
Closest to pin at 15 – Peter Malnati had the closest tee shot at the drivable par-4 296-yard 15th, hitting it to 3 feet, 9 inches for eagle.
CALL OF THE DAY
For play-by-play coverage of the second round of the Travelers Championship, listen at PGATOUR.COM.
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Jordan Spieth's bunker hole out for Shot of the Day