After surveying TPC River Highlands for the first time before a practice round Tuesday, Jordan Spieth's caddie Michael Greller said, "This course is tailor-made for you."
"We came out [Thursday] with our guns blazing," Spieth said.
Spieth's birdie putt of 4 feet, 4 inches on the 18th hole gave him a 7-under-par 63 and the first-round lead in the Travelers Championship.
"I love this golf course," he said after posting the lowest first-round score in his PGA Tour career.
That is foreboding for the rest of field.
Brett Stegmaier, a native of Madison, and Johnson Wagner were one stroke behind Spieth at 64. Graham Delaet and Troy Merritt were tied for fourth (65).
Seventy five of the 156 professionals were under par on a sunny day when many fans flocked to the course because the field featured the Nos. 3, 4 and 6 players in the World Golf Rankings, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Spieth. At some holes, fans lined 10 deep to watch Spieth.
Tournament director Nathan Grube said the main parking north of the course was filled and cars were then parked in the second lot off Golf Club Road across the street from the eighth hole. "We don't have all the numbers, but the eye test said it was the biggest first-round crowd I can remember [in the 11 years of the Travelers Championship]," he said.
Spieth was impressed by the turnout.
"It was spectacular when we walked to the first tee [Wednesday and Thursday], that was one of the best receptions I have ever had," Spieth said after he played his first competitive round at TPC River Highlands. "It was really cool, and they stayed with us all the way. Greller has a lot of support too. There were some guys, 'Greller's Army' out there."
The fans cheered for Spieth, who birdied his first two holes on putts of just under 15 feet and 2 feet. "Got it rolling through eight holes, kind of stole [a birdie] on the eighth on a tough par-3, and then kept it going and kept our head down," he said.
His lone bogey was at the par-4 ninth, where he drove into a bunker, hit his second shot in another bunker and failed to get up and down.
"I got a little bit of frustration on 10, 11," he said of missed birdie putts. "I hit some good putts that just barely missed, 10, 11 and 12, but finished the round really nicely on the last six."
All aspects of his game were solid, with his approach irons often landing near or right over pins. He hit eight of 14 fairways, 15 of 18 greens and needed 27 putts.
His birdie at 14 tied him for the lead at 6 under with Wagner and Stegmaier Stegmaier had finished his round four hours before Spieth. Stegmaier's great expectations for playing well in the tournament were quite low before the round. After all, in his three previous appearances he had never made the cut.
"Just put too much pressure on myself coming here," he said "This year was pretty low key, not expecting much."
Stegmaier was uplifted Thursday. His previous low score at TPC River Highlands was 72 in the first round in 2010 and '16. But starting on the back nine and carding six birdies in an eight-hole stretch (13-16, 18 and 1), that score was obliterated in the first round.
The performance was welcomed because he's 180th in earnings ($172,731) and missed six of his last seven cuts.
He credited his mental coach, Paul Doolan, for a better approach to the game. Stegmaier quit his chase for his tour card in 2009 and almost did it again six years later.
"Before I got on the (Web.com Tour), probably, just because I ran out of money and wasn't enjoying it," he said of the time he almost gave up his tour quest. "But I was fortunate to finally get through Q-School. Always seemed to play well when I really, really needed it."
Wagner matched Stegmaier's score after a poor opening drive.
"Kind of smoother-hooked a tee shot down the left line and skinny-pushed an 8-iron," he said. "Hit the cart path up on the hill and I'm like, 'Oh, my gosh, here we go again, what am I going to do today?' And I chipped it in [for birdie] from right of the path, downhill 40 yards away. It was a nice way to start and much calmed me down and kind of let me know today was going to be my day."
It was an enjoyable day of work. He shot 31 on the front. Bookend birdies on the back at 10 and 18 completed his card.
"It was funny, I was in Westchester County [N.Y.] with my coach at Old Oaks [CC in Purchase, N.Y,], and their cups looked tiny right now," he said. "I don't know what was going on. But then getting here on Tuesday, the cups looked big."
Spieth has the same positive view of TPC River Highlands.
"We love this place," he said of his work with Greller. "Certainly the score says a lot, but even if I'd shot even par, going into it, I thought it was a really good golf course for us."
This article is written by Tom Yantz from The Hartford Courant and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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