Recap of the day
Morning wave: Not quite the 59 which Paul Goydos shot in the first round in 2010, Steve Wheatcroft blitzed this annual birdie-fest at TPC Deere Run for a 9-under 62, closing with a burst of six birdies from the 13th. That was the lowest opener here since Troy Matteson’s 61 in 2012. Like Wheatcroft, Johnson Wagner had nine birdies on his card although the veteran swallowed two bogeys in a 64, a score matched by Nick Taylor. Michael Kim threatened a sub-60 when playing his first 12 holes in 8-under but there he stayed to finish solo second after the a.m. starters completed.
Afternoon wave: After an outward 32 from 10th tee, Whee Kim started his second nine birdie-eagle-birdie to hit 8-under after 12. He backpedaled with bogeys at the final two holes to finish at 6-under 64. Andres Romero was initially listed in the Scottish Open field this week but he chose the JDC. Looks like a good choice as he fired a 7-under 64, despite splitting just five fairways. Joel Dahmen kept his form, signing for a 7-under 64 today as well.
Revised outright betting: 9/2 Molinari, 15/1 Kirk, 25/1 Dahmen, Wagner, Rodgers.
Friday weather forecast
Temperatures build from 70 degrees in the early morning to around the mid-90s in the afternoon. There’s wind in the forecast too and it will be a steady 10mph for a large chunk of the day.
Leaders after 18 holes
Steve Wheatcroft (62) – Missed just one green and ranked second in both SG: Approach and SG: Putting when he walked off the course. Nice combo. His lowest round by two at this level.
Michael Kim (63) – Struck it well (11 fairways, 16 greens) and nailed three birdies from outside 21 feet. The 63 represents a PB on the PGA Tour.
Johnson Wagner (64) – The course horse (7-5-5 from 2014-2016) was at it again, shooting his lowest opening lap in nine appearances. Hot putter and had a full set of deuces on his card.
Nick Taylor (64) – Pelted 14 greens and found eight birdies. The Canadian is without a top 20 since January so a welcome return to form.
Fate of the favourites
Francesco Molinari (65) – Now 27-under for his last five rounds! Cruised on the par 5s, having eagle putts from 28ft or under on all three although had to settle for birdie each time. Another good day at the office for the Quicken Loans winner.
Bryson DeChambeau (WD) – Five bogeys in his first 15 holes suggested something wasn’t right for the defending champion and he withdrew before teeing off at 15, citing a shoulder injury which started at the second hole.
Zach Johnson (69) – Fell to 2-over after seven holes following a run of three bogeys in six holes but fought back after that. Nevertheless, his highest opening round here in nine years.
Steve Wheatcroft (62): “I know we have to go low here. Two Web.com Tour events I won I shot 29 and 24-under, so I know how to go low. I've done that when I'm playing well, and I feel like I'm playing really well right now. Hopefully we can roll it into three more good days.”
Michael Kim (63): “Just putted great today. Been struggling with the putter last couple weeks, but really, really rolled it nice today. Greens are great. They're soft, they're rolling true, and they're bent greens, so you just got to hit it on your line.”
Johnson Wagner (64): “I like it off the tee. I can reach two of the par-5s. I feel like I have a lot of wedge opportunities. I putt well here. I love the people. I mean, just everything about it.”
Nick Taylor (64): “I’ve been working hard. The results haven't been there obviously, but I feel like my game has been close. A lot is seeing the putts go in, and today they were going in.”
Road to victory at TPC Deere Run
2017 Bryson DeChambeau – R1: 8th, R2: 2nd, R3: 5th
2016 Ryan Moore – R1: 3rd, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2015 Jordan Spieth – R1: 101st, R2: 16th, R3: 1st
2014 Brian Harman – R1: 1st, R2: 3rd, R3: 1st
2013 Jordan Spieth – R1: 64th, R2: 19th, R3: 9th
Notes: Nine of the last 13 winners were in the top ten after day one and five of those were in the top three. Jordan Spieth has taken a very different path though. He opened with a 1-over 71 in 2015 and even-par 70 in 2013. Steve Stricker also won with an over-par first lap in 2009 (shot 61 on day two) so there’s hope for those who couldn’t get it going in R1. Indeed, Zach Johnson said after his modest 69 today: “I mean, I'm not out of the golf tournament. I know that. Shoot, I almost won golf tournaments making the cut on the number.”
Fate of the first-round leaders at TPC Deere Run – where did they finish?
2017 Charles Howell – 19th, Ollie Schniederjans – 39th
2015 Justin Thomas – 5th, Nicolas Thompson – 44th
Notes: A fast start is no guarantee for success here though and of the last six to have a piece of the lead, only Justin Thomas (5th) ended up making the top 15. In other words, you can’t just hold on to what you have. The foot has to stay firmly on the gas for all 72 holes.
Focus on – Missing a trick?
Does playing in the John Deere fail to maximise a player’s chances of performing well in next week’s Open Championship? Obviously, warming up on the links would appear to offer much better prep and that’s why Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar are contesting this week’s Scottish Open on the links of Gullane. For the record, six of the last eight Open winners played in the Scottish seven days earlier so it looks by far the better route. However, Zach Johnson was third at the 2015 John Deere before going on to win the Open Championship at St. Andrews a week later so it can be done. It’s a very different style of golf but perhaps making birdies galore at TPC Deere Run is simply a nice confidence builder. For the last ten years, a special charter plane has been laid on for those heading across the pond. ZJ will be on it again this year, as will Francesco Molinari, Ryan Moore and Bryson DeChambeau.
Focus on – Kelly Kraft
Kelly Kraft was the 54-hole leader in last week’s Greenbrier but ran into an inspired Kevin Na in round four and settled for second place. Crucially, he left The Old White in positive mood after securing a spot at Carnoustie but also having no regrets. “Yeah, it was a great week. Ties my best finish. Obviously, I would have loved to win after leading coming into today, but, you know, sometimes you run into a guy that makes a lot of putts. I definitely have a lot of confidence now, going for the rest of the year.” There was no reason why he shouldn’t continue to shine this week and that idea played out positively as Kraft threw down an opening 5-under 66. There are different ways to lose a tournament and it can make a big difference as to how a player will perform next time out, especially if he gets back on the horse straight away.