Wheatcroft surprises with opening 62 at John Deere Classic
July 12, 2018
By Cameron Morfit , PGATOUR.COM
Steve Wheatcroft's interview after Round 1 of John Deere
SILVIS, Ill. – Steve Wheatcroft is so far back in the FedExCup (209th), he tries not to think about it. He’s so far down the Official World Golf Ranking (927), he almost needs a comma.
And yet there was Wheatcroft, 40, reeling off six straight birdies to finish his opening-round 62, which was good enough for the early lead at the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run.
“I wanted to just go to the first tee and start the second round,” Wheatcroft said.
He was one shot clear of Michael Kim, while Nick Taylor and Johnson Wagner were among a foursome of players two off the lead after posting 64s, two back. Joel Dahmen and Andres Romero also shot 64 in the tougher afternoon conditions.
Early starters had the best of all worlds: a soft course, and almost no wind. Wheatcroft and his playing partners, Keith Mitchell (67) and Patrick Rodgers (66), shot a combined 18 under par.
“The greens for the morning guys were absolutely perfect,” Mitchell said.
If there was a theme to the first round, it was this: Better get moving. It’s crunch time with just six weeks (and eight tournaments) remaining until the start of the FedExCup Playoffs, and the players at the top of the Deere leaderboard have considerable work to do to crack the top 125.
Wagner, who made over 131 feet of putts Thursday, is 144th. Taylor is 128th. Kim, who had an outside shot at 59 but went 1 over for his last three holes, is 161st.
“It was just kind of one of those days where I couldn’t miss,” Wagner said.
No one, though, was a bigger surprise than Wheatcroft, whose bogey-free round saw him make nearly 111 feet of putts. He strafed his irons, leaving himself with birdie putts of six feet or less on holes 13-15 to start his closing kick. Another key, he said, was the driver head he had installed Wednesday, a Callaway with a slight draw bias to keep him from losing shots right. He had only hit the new club on the range before Thursday, when he hit 12 of 14 fairways.
So far, so good.
“I’m 40 years old; I’m realistic about where I’m at in my career at this point,” Wheatcroft said. “I’m well back in the FedExCup, I’ve got a long ways to go.”
Does he have his passport in case he wins and gets a late ticket to The Open Championship? Yes, but he always travels with it. The Open, he added, was the last thing on his mind.
“It’s been a brutal year, to be honest with you,” said Wheatcroft, whose best finish this season is a T28 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship. “It’s probably the worst year I’ve had so far, but I don’t feel like I’m playing the worst golf of my career. I actually feel like I’m playing some good golf, I’m just not getting the results out of it.
“It’s a weird thing to say; until you go through it, it’s kind of hard to explain,” he added. “But, you know, I feel like it’s close; 62 didn’t surprise me. Maybe a little bit with the new driver going it into play, but it was rock-solid today and the rest of the game was there.”
RODGERS BACK IN THE FRAY. Patrick Rodgers tied for 15th in his first crack at the Deere in 2013. He was runner-up to Bryson DeChambeau a year ago, and shot 66 Thursday. None of which is surprising, given his affinity for the course. The only thing that doesn’t compute with Rodgers, 26, is that he’s still trying to break through on TOUR after a gilded career at Stanford in which he won 11 times in three years, tying the all-time mark set by Tiger Woods (in two), and set the career scoring record (70.32). Does Rodgers feel he has unfinished business at TPC Deere Run? Well, yes. “I’m definitely reminded with all the billboards around town having Bryson’s face instead of mine,” he said. “… I’d be lying if I said it didn’t play a factor. I’m still without a win. I think this is a great venue for me. I think I have a great chance every time I tee it up here, and I’m looking forward to getting myself in that position again.”
NCAA CHAMP SHOOTS 67. Broc Everett, the reigning NCAA individual champion from Augusta, is no stranger to these parts after graduating from West Des Moines Valley High. And the sponsor’s exemption impressed in his PGA TOUR debut at the Deere, showing no sign of nerves in his bogey-free 67. “One of the caddies came up and said, ‘Welcome to the PGA TOUR,” said Everett, who holed out from a greenside bunker to eagle the par-5 second hole. “I was like, Yeah. It’s pretty sweet. Good start.” Everett’s victory at the NCAAs in late May was his first and only as a collegiate. The only downside to his TOUR debut, he said, was missing a handful of putts in the range of 9 to 15 feet. “Going to work on that distance,” he said.
BRYSON DECHAMBEAU - Defending champion withdrew with an injured right shoulder after completing just 15 holes. For more on DeChambeau, click here.
FRANCESCO MOLINARI - Highest ranked player (15) in the field and the hottest after wins in Europe and at the Quicken Loans National, Italy's Molinari shot 65 in the afternoon.
ZACH JOHNSON – The 2012 winner and tournament ambassador, Iowa’s favorite golfing son got off to a rocky start with bogeys at three of his first seven holes, but rebounded for a 69.
STEVE STRICKER – Searching for his 13th PGA TOUR victory at age 51, three-time Deere champion Stricker made 13 pars and never got much going during an opening 70.
KELLY KRAFT – The runner-up to Kevin Na at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier last week, Kraft kept up his solid play with an opening 66.
JOEL DAHMEN – Despite playing in the tougher afternoon conditions, Dahmen torched the back nine with a 7-under 29 on the way to a 64. He is coming off a T5 finish at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.
Steve Stricker dials in No. 10 approach to 4 feet at John Deere
QUOTABLESSee if I can kidnap him for tomorrow.I blame my playing partners.
Low round: 62, by Steve Wheatcroft.
Longest drive: 390 yards by Xinjun Zang on the 17th hole.
Fewest putts: 24 by Whee Kim (65)
Easiest hole: The par-5 17th played to a 4.465 average.
Hardest hole: The par-4 18th, hardest finisher on TOUR last year, played to a 4.303 average.
Bryson DeChambeau nearly aces the par-3 3rd at John Deere
CALL OF THE DAY
For play-by-play coverage of the second round of the John Deere Classic, listen at PGATOUR.COM.
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Austin Cook's tee shot sets up 3-foot birdie for Shot of the Day