It might not be a major week anymore, but the leaderboard sure looks like it after one round at the 2018 Travelers Championship. Jordan Spieth co-leads with Zach Johnson after a 7-under 63 on Thursday that included six birdies and an eagle. Rory McIlroy is T3 after a 6-under 64 that included seven birdies. Justin Thomas and Jason Day are T9 after firing 5-under 65. Whoooo boy, that's a front page.
Spieth and McIlroy didn't go out until the afternoon after they both missed the cut at last week's U.S. Open, but their performances were certainly worth the wait. McIlroy played behind Spieth and birdied four of his first six holes before playing the rest of his round in 2 under to get to 64. Spieth went out in 31 following a hole-out eagle (see below) and two other birdies on the front. He was nearly as good on the back with just one bogey spoiling an otherwise terrific card.
Both came into this week looking for a victory. McIlroy talked about closing out a tournament after putting himself in position to win five times so far in 2018. Spieth hasn't had a top-20 finish since the 2018 Masters and hasn't had a win since the 2017 Open Championship. Combined, they have won just two tournaments since last year's Travelers. A solid amount for two mere mortals, but this is Spieth and McIlroy we're talking about.
"I played really well today," McIlroy said. "I feel like the work that I did over the weekend sort of started to pay off already. It was nice to see the shots I was playing right there. Being able to work the ball both ways was something I wasn't quite as comfortable doing last week. Obviously, you never want to miss a cut in a major, but it might have been a blessing in disguise for the rest of the year."
Both have a strong recent history at this tournament. McIlroy closed out the 2017 edition with another 64, and Spieth obviously won the tournament with a hole-out birdie in a playoff last year with Daniel Berger.
There's still a long way to go this week, but if Round 1 is any indication, we're in for a sneaky great event the week after the second major of the year. We've never truly gotten a McIlroy-Spieth (or Spieth-Thomas or McIlroy-Thomas) shootout on a Sunday, but wouldn't that be a great way to kick off the first true week of the summer. If their brief history at this tournament and play on Thursday are any indication, that could be what we're in for by the end of the week.
Here are a few more takeaways from Round 1 at the Travelers Championship.
1. Zach Johnson stays in the spotlight: After a notable U.S. Open in which he finished T12 and, Johnson got some publicity on Thursday for a different reason: He shot a 7-under 63 in Round 1 at TPC River Highlands to match Spieth. His day included six birdies in a row and eight overall, and he's cruising right along as he goes for PGA Tour win No. 13 this week in a much, uh, different atmosphere than last week's testy U.S. Open.
"It's a different kind of exhaling, if you will, but they're both good," Johnson said. "We all as competitors and golfers, we want to have really, really difficult tests that make you push it physically and mentally. You know, we want that for everybody across the board in a fair manner. I think the PGA Tour, specifically this tournament does that in a great job.
"You can put some red on the board here. We know that. We've seen it. You can go the other way in a hurry, and if you press it, it can keep going the other way. So you have to kind of let it happen. This is one of those courses where you have to let it happen."
I do enjoy the praising of this course tinged with a bit of shade for Mike Davis and Co. from Johnson.
2. Can Beau Hossler close? That's probably a strange question to some, but he's inside the top 10 after a 5-under 65 in the first round. This has been a trend for one of the more talented college players in recent memory. Fast out of the gates before he fades late. His Round 1-4 scoring average is pretty staggering to look at. This is probably nothing more than a statistical quirk, but it would be nice to see him turn it around this week at the Travelers, and maybe we'll even get a good old-fashioned Texas showdown between him and Spieth.
3. Good friends hole out for eagle: Spieth holed out for eagle on the par-5 6th hole on Thursday, and then a few minutes later Justin Thomas did the exact same thing from the same bunker. The difference is that it moved Spieth to 4 under on the day and near the lead at the time, and it simply got Thomas back into red figures at 1 under.
4. Koepka hangover: U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka made four birdies on his first five holes, and it briefly looked like he would win every tournament he entered for the rest of time. Then, because this is golf, he played his back nine in 2-over 37. It was still a pretty impressive display for someone who has had such a whirlwind last week that he doesn't know where his U.S. Open trophy is.
"I feel like I played a lot better than the score kind of reflected," Koepka said. "It was nice to get off to a good start. I'm still kind of going on adrenaline right now, but I'll be honest, I'm dead right now. I think it showed kind of coming in. Just exhausted. Get some rest and kind of clean it up for tomorrow, but still playing good.
"I'm going to go home, take a nap, just get some rest before I go to the gym. It's just Monday through Wednesday went very quick, if you can imagine. It's nice to be back playing. I was focused on this week getting ready, but it takes a lot out of you last week."