The first round of the Travelers Championship took on the aura of a Major Thursday, with three Major champions and their nine Major victories occupying the top of the leaderboard.
Defending champion Jordan Spieth, winner of three Majors, was among them, shooting a seven-under par 63 at the TPC Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut, to share the lead with Zach Johnson, twice a Major winner. Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy, a winner of four Majors, bogeyed the 18th hole to finish a stroke back with a 64.
Spieth is coming off missed cuts at the Memorial and the US Open, though he dismissed the suggestion that simply returning to the course on which he won a year ago by holing a bunker shot in a playoff was any kind of impetus behind his low score.
“I wouldn’t say it was big or necessary or anything,” he said. “I’ve been sticking to the process. I’ve been very positive about making progress from how I got pretty off earlier this year. So it’s good to see a good score. Those are obviously nice to see. But still a long way to go. It’s round one.”
Yes, round one, a nemesis of sorts for Spieth this year. He ranks 155th on the US PGA Tour in first-round scoring average, 71.79.
“First rounds have been kind of detrimental to me, so it’s nice to be in the thick of things,” he said.
Another issue has been his vaunted putting that had gone on hiatus. He ranks 127th in putts per round, though for this round, at least, he seems to have recovered some magic.
“The putter feels great,” he said. “Actually the last two events I missed the cut and actually putted really well. Beat the field by at least a shot. But I put so much time into putting that my ball-striking fell off. I’m starting to kind of even things out now. The ball-striking has a little ways to go yet, but the putter feels fantastic. I’m seeing my lines better and it’s a matter of time before it gets to the level I’ve been at before.”
Spieth hit 12 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation. He made six birdies, an eagle and only a single bogey at 15 from which he bounced back with a birdie at 16.
McIlroy also missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills, but he hit 17 of 18 greens at the TPC Highlands, his only miss coming at the 18th hole, resulting in his only bogey of the day.
“I’ve had a little bit of time to practice the last few days, working on some stuff that stood out over the first two days at Shinnecock, especially with the wind,” McIlroy said. “It sort of magnifies what you’re doing wrong. It was nice to get some time to work on those things
“I felt good out there today. I felt pretty comfortable with the changes I’m trying to make and hit some pretty good shots.”
US Open champion Brooks Koepka, meanwhile, opened with a two-under par 68 and is tied for 37th.
Australia’s Matt Jones is tied for sixth after carding a five-under 65, while Jason Day lurks a further shot behind at four-under.