CROMWELL - The first round of the Travelers Championship did not disappoint. Neither did some of the top names at the event.
Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey, Justin Thomas and Jason Day all finished at or near the top of the leaderboard Thursday afternoon.
Spieth, along with Zach Johnson, is tied for the lead after shooting a 7-under 63, with McIlroy (-6), Casey (-5), Thomas (-4) and Day (-4) all within striking distance. U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka finished at 2-under.
“What a stellar field; you’ve got all four reigning major champions here,” Casey said. “Mega applause to Brooks as well for coming here after winning last week, because it’s very easy to be caught up with other stuff going on. So that speaks volumes for what Travelers has done and how they treat everybody.”
Spieth was aided by a 4-under front nine, including an eagle on six, and six birdies to just one bogey, while Johnson had a string of six consecutive birdies on the back nine.
“I would probably call it [my] third best [round] of the year, behind the first and last round at Augusta,” Spieth said. “I had a good one at Houston I remember. I played it really smart today. It was probably the smartest round I’ve played this year, really the last couple years.”
McIlroy had a chance to retain a share of the lead, but failed to capitalize on his approach shot to the 18th green and slammed his club back into his golf bag afterward. The Northern Irishman ended up bogeying the hole, his only one of the day, and ended his afternoon sharing third place with Peter Malnati and Brian Harman.
McIlory did make three straight birdies on 13, 14 and 15 to put him in the early-leader discussion, but he also knew the scoreboard could have been more in his favor.
“I thought I had so many chances for birdies,” said McIlroy, who was in a group with Thomas and Bubba Watson. “It was nice to finally get one on 13 after missing a few chances, and then 14 and 15 was nice as well.”
Thomas ran into some trouble on the front nine, bogeying two of his first three holes and three overall with an eagle on the par-5 sixth, salvaging his round leading into the final nine holes of his day. On the back nine, Thomas was two-under, making three birdies in a row at one point.
He was able to hit a difficult shot off the edge of the bunker on 18 and make the putt to end his round with a par.
“That eagle on [hole] six kind of helped me out a little bit,” Thomas said. “I putted the ball beautifully today, besides one really stupid short miss. But, yeah, it could have been lower, but pleased with 4-under.”
Day, meanwhile, would have found himself tied with Casey at 5-under had it not been for his own bogey on 18. Both of the Australian’s bogeys came over his final eight holes.
Watson, who missed the cut at the Travelers last year, played an up-and-down round, with holes 12, 14 and 15 - all bogeys - proving to be particularly costly. He finished at an even 70.
Koepka struggled to stay consistent in his round as well. The 28-year-old birdied four of his first five holes, but bogeyed four of his last six. Overall, though, Koepka didn’t seem too bothered by his outing, especially after admitting he started getting a little tired halfway into the round.
“Yeah, I played really well,” Koepka said. “I really did. I just lost a bit of energy there at the end. I still really don’t know where I’m at. But playing really well, putting good, just a couple bad swings there. But that just comes from focus and not really paying attention too much.”
That appears to be the case for many of those in the field.
“There is a stretch there where you can make some big numbers or you can make some low numbers,” Johnson said. “That’s why I think this golf course here at Travelers is terrific.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org