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Spieth steady in afternoon, leads Travelers by 1 after strong 63

CROMWELL, Conn. – There is some truth to the belief that the players who go out in the afternoon wave during the morning/afternoon tee time schedule in the first two rounds of a PGA Tour event have it rougher than the a.m. group. A statistical analysis would support that, but then you have a Jordan Spieth, who doesn't follow the "normal" pattern.

Based on the Texan’s performance during the afternoon Thursday in Round 1 of The Travelers Championship, he might have been preparing us for a memorable afternoon on Sunday. As he was completing his round in the late afternoon at TPC River Highlands, two players from the morning half, Johnson Wagner and Brett Stegmaier, were sitting at the top at six-under-par 64. Spieth had joined them at six under following back-to-back birdies at 13 and 14. When he came to 18 still needing a birdie to take the lead, he didn't disappoint, rolling in a 3-foot birdie putt to get to seven-under 63.

The time was 5:56, just about the time heroics on Sunday afternoon would come in handy. After the twosome tied at six under was a pair at five, Troy Merritt, an afternoon player, and Graham DeLaet. Among 13 players at four under were two key figures from the U.S. Open last weekend, Xander Schauffele and Brian Harman.

Spieth had eight birdies and a lone bogey on No. 9 for his 63, which was his best score ever on tour in the first round. His previous best had been three 64s. It was also the sixth time he had led or co-led the first-round lead on tour.

Riled-up weather is often the reason the afternoon players have it tougher than the morning, but Thursday gave the field equal opportunity weather. Calm wind and bright sunshine ruled all day, making for a good day to go low.

In Spieth’s first competitive round at the course, he birdied his first two holes, five of the first eight, and headed to the back nine four under after the bogey at nine.

“It felt like a golf course we could take advantage of,” he said. “Just tried to keep the ball in the fairway, and from there, you have short enough clubs into the green to where your misses can still be putts. Got it rolling through eight holes, kind of stole one on the eighth on a tough par 3, and then kept it going and kept our head down. I got a little bit of frustration on 10, 11. I hit some good putts that just barely missed, 10, 11 and 12, but finished the round really nicely on the last six.”

After not being a contender at the U.S. Open last week, Spieth put in less practice on the putting green this week. “I put in so much time worrying about kind of feeling, what technique I wanted at Erin Hills, and this week we spent less time on the green,” he said. “I don't think that's something that would normally work, but it was something where we've been more feel based this week knowing that on poa annua anything can kind of happen. So my expectations may have been a bit lowered, which helps you putt better.”

Spieth’s early work on the course gave him the impression it could be good for him. “I had no idea until we kind of got on the grounds and I saw Michael [caddie Greller] on Tuesday before we played any holes, and he said, ‘This course is tailor made for you,’ is what he said. I love the back nine. I think it's a very exciting nine holes of golf, one of the coolest stretches that we play where anything can happen. So that's good and bad when you're leading.”

Another former No. 1 player, Rory McIlroy, was making his debut at The Travelers as well, and shot 67. Other notables include Jim Furyk and Patrick Reed both at 67, past champions Marc Leishman and defender Russell Knox at 69,  Jason Day 72, Justin Thomas 73, and surprisingly, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson 75.


Cliff Schrock