SILVIS, Ill. — After scoring over par in the first round of seven of his last eight tournaments, Fairmont native William McGirt got off to the start he wanted on Thursday at the John Deere Classic.
McGirt had a bogey-free first day en route to a 7-under-par 64, putting him one shot off the lead at TPC Deere Run.
“It seems like for the last couple of months I’ve struggled to get off to a good start and it’s nice to actually play pretty good in the first round and not be playing from behind the eight ball starting the second day,” he said in an interview with PGATour.com.
McGirt successfully hit the majority of his fairways and had only 24 putts, putting him in a tie for fourth place with 2004 British Open champion Todd Hamilton and Steven Bowditch.
He had birdies on Nos. 2, 3 and 6. After the turn he opened with consecutive birdies on Nos. 10, 11, 12 and had his final one on No. 14.
The trio finished the day a stroke behind Zach Johnson, Rory Sabbatini and Brian Harman, whose 8-under-par 63s shared the lead after the opening round.
“I was very pleased with it. I hit it pretty solid today and made a few putts so it’s a recipe for a good number,” McGirt said.
Defending champion Jordan Spieth felt great on the first tee of the John Deere Classic but left reeling.
“It was a struggle,” Spieth said of the round, an even-par 71 he salvaged with birdies on the 16th and 17th holes. “I need to go find something on the range because I just wasn’t comfortable over the ball today.”
Spieth was eight strokes behind Johnson, Sabbatini and Harman. Then again, Spieth was six strokes behind the leaders entering last year’s final round, and rallied to win, beating Johnson and David Hearn in a sudden-death playoff.
“It’s going to take some incredible golf,” said Spieth, sixth on the PGA Tour money list. “But I’m putting well, so when I find my swing, I can maybe take it deep.”
That’s where the leaders were.
Johnson and Sabbatini played bogey-free golf, while Harman had nine birdies and one bogey — even though his regular caddie had to drop out.
Brendon de Jonge, Kevin Tway, David Toms and Robert Streb are two back at 6-under 65.
Harman, who bettered his best round of the year by two strokes, was 2 under through six holes when his caddie, Scott Tway, took ill. Jay Hatch of Davenport, Iowa, a high school basketball coach, volunteered from the gallery, and carried Harman’s bag the last 12 holes, which Harman played in 6 under.
Harman didn’t miss a beat when his caddie took ill.
“I called a medic over and Scottie said he was going to have to sit out at least a couple holes,” Harman said. “Jay was standing there and said, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll keep up.’ “
Checking his own yardages, Harman birdied seven of his last 12 holes, and nine overall.
“If you go out and birdie half of the golf course, you feel you’ve done fairly well,” Harman said.