Recap of the day
Morning wave: -4 was the magic number for the vast majority of the morning session as Troy Merritt, Wesley Bryan, Fabian Gomez, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Chris Kirk and Michael Kim all posted 66s. And then, after joining the log-jam with a par breaker at 16, Seamus Power raised the bar to -5 by converting a 5ft 9” birdie putt at 18. One behind at -3 came last week’s Memorial play-off loser Byeong Hun An.
Afternoon wave: Brandon Harkins charged out of the gate with four opening birdies and tied the lead two holes later. A bogey at 8 and double at 12 set him back but he recovered with circles at 14 and 16 to add to the bunch on -4. Steve Stricker joined them after chipping in at the last. Mackenzie Hughes holed out twice en route to a 4-under and Stuart Appleby also joined the second-place logjam with a round of 66.
Friday weather forecast
Hot, humid and sunny. Temperatures hit 90 degrees just before midday and stay there. Very little wind again.
Leaders (selected) after 18 holes – how they performed
Seamus Power 65 – Hit just 6 fairways but over four strokes gained tee-to-green. Solid short game too.
Fabian Gomez 66 – If you like an omen, Gomez shot 66 in round one when winning here in 2015. Red-hot putter (gained over 5 strokes) but he’ll struggle to sustain that.
Troy Merritt 66– Five birdies over first 17 holes before a walk-off bogey. Gained just over 4.5 strokes tee-to-green.
Fate of the favorites
Dustin Johnson 67 – DJ got to -3 after 8 before finding the drink at 9 and making double. Recovered well and posted -3 without holing anything.
Brooks Koepka 66 – 11 of 14 fairways bodes well ahead of his US Open defense next week. Nearly two strokes gained putting.
Henrik Stenson 68 – Negative SG: Putting stopped a low one. Hit 15 greens after splitting 11 fairways.
Phil Mickelson 66 – Pretty typical Phil patterns… 7 of 14 fairways, strong approach play and solid putting (+2.353 when he walked off).
Seamus Power (65): “I played very well. It’s a golf course I like. I played well here last year (T27) and it kind of suits my eye so I kind of feel good going out. ETSU is probably a 9-10 hour drive from here so it’s a little bit different but it’s the same idea with the Bermuda, even the temperature. We played in a lot of this at college so it definitely helped a little.”
Road to victory at TPC Southwind
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
2013 – Harris English R1: 1st, R2: 1st, R3: 2nd
Notes: Plenty of fast starts have been rewarded but Daniel Berger was only T48 and six off the lead after opening with a 70 when making a successful defense last year. Dustin Johnson also shot an even-par 70 in R1 when taking the title in 2012 while in 2011 Harrison Frazar came back from a 1-over 71 (T54) on day one. To give even more hope to those who started slowly today, 2006 champion Jeff Maggert was eight back after a R1 72.
Fate of the 18-hole leaders
There’s been an awful lot of them in recent times. No less than 16 players have topped the Thursday leaderboard over the last five years. Ben Crane and Harris English went on to win. Scott Brown and Sebastian Munoz, who were part of a four-way tie last year, finished T52 (11 back) and T60 (12 back) respectively.
Focus on – Phil Mickelson
Next week, Lefty has another crack at landing the tournament which has taunted him like no other. Mickelson is a six-time runner-up in the U.S. Open (note: all on the east coast) so how good an indicator is his form in the event that precedes it?
1999 Pinehurst – DNP, T11 Memorial two weeks before
2002 Bethpage Black – T25 Buick Classic
2004 Shinnecock Hills – T16 Buick Classic
2006 Winged Foot – T18 Barclays Classic
2009 Bethpage Black – T59 St Jude Classic
2013 Merion – T2 St Jude Classic
Five times out of six Mickelson has made the top 25 in his last event going in. As for where he’s finished ahead of his five major wins – T10, T10, Win, T25, Win. On past evidence, if Phil finishes from 11th to 25th this week, he’s on track for another second place. If he cracks the top 10 here, the last leg of the Grand Slam is very much on.
Focus on – Seamus Power
The Irishman twice held the 18-hole lead at Web.com level in 2015. His finishes those weeks – 51st and 19th. The next time he finished inside the top five after round one, Power had to settle for tied 35th. A problem? If so, it was one that he seemed to be solving when he turned an opening 69 (T5 after R1) into a Web.com win at the United Leasing Championship in May, 2016 while three starts later he went from T4 after day one to T7 at the finish. Since graduating to full PGA Tour level, the early pattern has repeated. Power has ended Thursday in the top 10 on four occasions and finished 27-49-18-60. Is this the week where, just as he did at Web.com level, the 31-year-old learns to cash in?
Focus on – Speed
Over on the European Tour this week, a new event is taking place – the Shot Clock Masters. In a bid to combat and shine on a light on slow play, a shot clock is being used. Players have a 50-second allowance for being first to hit an approach (including a par three tee-shot), chip or putt and a 40-second allowance for a tee-shot on a par four or par five, or being the second or third to play an approach shot, chip or putt. Failure to make the shot in the allotted time leads to a one-shot penalty on the hole in question but players are allowed two 40-second time-extensions in any one round. The average round on Thursday was played an hour quicker than normal. Five three-balls completed their laps of Diamond Country Club in less than four hours. Interestingly, not a single player fell foul of a bad time. See, it can be done! Time for something similar on the PGA TOUR?