Recap of the day
Light winds and temperatures hovering just below 90 degrees meant scoring conditions were excellent. With just 64 players in the field and a two-tee start, play was condensed and the birdies came thick and fast. Jon Rahm was the star of the show with a stunning 62, his 8-under lap securing a three-shot lead over a five-man bunch including Patrick Cantlay, Bubba Watson and Hideki Matsuyama. Rory McIlroy's bid to bounce back from his Royal Portrush nightmare was faltering badly when he slipped to +3 but the Northern Irishman recovered to shoot 1-under 69, a score matched by two-time TPC Southwind winner Dustin Johnson.
Revised outright betting: 2/1 Rahm, 8/1 Cantlay, 10/1 Matsuyama, 14/1 Rose, 16/1 Koepka, 22/1 Watson, 25/1 Smith, DJ, Thomas, McIlroy.
Friday weather forecast
More of the same. Pleasant sunshine but nothing too severe and light winds.
Leaders after at 18 holes
Jon Rahm (62) – Another special round from the Spanish star although holing 142 feet of putts certainly helped (1st SG: Putting). Home in 30 despite failing to birdie the back nine's only par 5. T2nd for GIR.
Patrick Cantlay (65) – Cantlay drained over 123 feet of putts himself so wasn't far behind Rahm in terms of the flat stick (2nd SG: Putting). Hit just 11 greens and minus figure on Approach so will need to get sharper with his irons.
Bubba Watson (65) – Only Rahm made more birdies than Bubba's seven. Ranked 4th SG: Tee to Green despite missing eight of the 14 fairways. Looked in chirpy mood when interviewed later.
Fate of the favorites
Dustin Johnson (69) – DJ slumped to 3-over on his outward nine but then changed putting grip to cross-handed and came home in 31. Tied second for GIR after ranking 1st SG: Off the Tee.
Brooks Koepka (68) – Took six swishes at the par-5 3rd and doubled the par-3 11th but countered with five birdies. T2 in both Driving Accuracy and GIR but middle of the field for SG: Putting.
Rory McIlroy (69) – His Royal Portrush hangover looked to be kicking in hard as he went double bogey, bogey, par, bogey from 9-12 but then magic Rory kicked in. Four birdies in his final five holes and an under-par round. Lost over two strokes on Approach though.
Jon Rahm (62): "It may come as a surprise that the first time I ever set foot on the front nine was today. It's jet-lag. I was not feeling good Monday, I was not feeling good Tuesday. Yesterday I came out to play 18 and see all of them and after four holes, I teed off on 10, I couldn't move. I felt so bad, I just went home and rested."
Patrick Cantlay (65): "I think I played really well. I think the golf course is difficult. Today we got nice conditions and I was able to make a few putts so it's a nice start to the week."
Ian Poulter (66): "Reasonably happy. I holed a few putts today which was awesome news. Didn't drive it awfully well but my iron play was great and I gave myself some chances and rolled a few in."
Road to victory at TPC Southwind
2018 Dustin Johnson – R1: 13th, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2017 Daniel Berger – R1: 48th, R2: 34th, R3: 9th
2016 Daniel Berger – R1: 10th, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2015 Fabian Gomez – R1: 8th, R2: 4th, R3: 1st
2014 Ben Crane – R1: 1st, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
Notes: It's a bit like comparing apples with pears given that the above numbers were from the regular St. Jude PGA TOUR event. However, this has been a good course for front-runners and four of the last ten winners had held a piece of the R1 lead. Good news for Jon Rahm!
Focus on – Jon Rahm's 62
Some players may have a reputation for shooting 66s or 65s. Jon Rahm is that good, the score he continues to be associated with is a number that some may never fire in a whole career. Today's 62 is simply the latest in a series of them. He shot that same score when leading the Farmers Insurance Open in January and also fired 62 when capturing the 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge. Last month in the Irish Open he conjured up another 62 to snatch the title having started the weekend in tied 38th. Today's 62 came after Rahm admitted there was a full nine holes of the course he'd never seen before. A major may have eluded him this year but a first WGC win is definitely within his grasp after this opener.
Focus on – Jordan Spieth
The wild round of the day at TPC Southwind definitely belonged to Spieth. On the face of it, even par 70 suggests nothing much happened. Think again. Spieth made seven birdies in his opener. Unfortunately, he also made two triples at 12 and 15 to drop a ludicrous six shots in the space of four holes. His even-par round was secured with a 21-footer for birdie at 18. Hit just four fairways and nine greens so plenty of smoke and mirrors and the nagging feeling remains that he's struggling again.