Silvis, Ill. — Roberto Diaz shot a 9-under 62 on Thursday to take the first-round lead in the John Deere Classic.
Playing in the final group of the day off the first tee, the 32-year-old Mexican player birdied four of the first five holes, eagled the par-5 10th and birdied three of the last five in the bogey-free round at TPC Deere Run. He took the lead with a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th.
“I just feel that everything clicked,” Diaz said. “I’ve been playing pretty solid throughout the year. The driver has been awesome. I’ve been hitting a lot of fairways, and today I hit good numbers all day, and that helps.”
Winless on the PGA Tour, Diaz tied for eighth at the Travelers Championship last month.
Americans Adam Long and Russell Henley were two strokes back. Martin Laird was another stroke back at 65 with Ryan Palmer, Andrew Landry, Vaughn Taylor, Zack Sucher and Ryan Blaum.
Long, who got his first career win earlier this season at the Desert Classic, had eight birdies – four on the front nine and four on the back nine.
Henley has missed the weekend cuts in his last four straight starts. But he highlighted an impressive birdie run by drilling a 55-foot putt on the par-3 7th hole.
“I don’t think I’ve ever lost the belief that I can have a nice tournament,” Henley said. “It’s just a matter of a few bumps here and there.”
Scotland’s Laird, who skipped his national tournament this week in an effort to boost his playoff positioning, followed up a 65 to close out last week’s event in Minnesota with birdies on five par 4s on Thursday.
Palmer, the second-highest ranked player in the FedEx Cup standings in the field at No. 22, returned from a month-long family vacation with a strong round.
Palmer was somewhat inconsistent on his front nine before rallying for three birdies in a five-hole stretch.
“Stress-free today, it felt like. Being off for four weeks, traveling the world a little bit was fun. But I just came into the week just wanting to get my game back going for next week obviously,” Palmer said.
Twenty-year-old rookie Matthew Wolff, who picked up his first career win at the 3M Open last week, opened with a 67. Wolff, the youngest winner on the tour since Jordan Spieth won at Deere Run six years ago, hit 15 greens in regulation and played bogey-free.
“Having that PGA Tour card locked up is a lot of weight off of my shoulders,” Wolff said. “Everything in my game feels really good right now.”
Defending champion Michael Kim, who set the tournament record at Deere Run a year ago by winning by eight shots, had a 73. Kim has made just five of 28 cuts since winning in the Quad Cities.
Local favorite and past tournament champion Zach Johnson saw a streak of 40 consecutive rounds of even par or better at Deere Run come to an end after a 1-over 72. Johnson, who last shot over par there in 2008, missed a long birdie putt that would’ve kept the streak alive by inches.
“Frustrating. I mean, the good shots that I hit I didn’t get anything out of it and the bad ones were, I’m scrambling a little bit,” Johnson said.
Steve Stricker topped the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship leaderboard at 5 under with a hole to play at Akron, Ohio, when the first round was suspended for the day because of lightning and rain.
Coming off a victory two weeks ago in the U.S. Senior Open at Norte Dame, Stricker had a hole-in-one on the 184-yard, par-3 seventh at Firestone Country Club.
Play was suspended at 12:55 p.m., and called for the day at 5:05 p.m. after just over an inch of rain soaked the course. Stricker was in the middle of the 18th fairway, facing a 140-yard shot on the par-4 hole, when play was stopped. He was set to resume play at 7 a.m. Friday.
“Bummed that we didn’t get to finish because that meant we could have slept in a little bit tomorrow, and then now we’ll have to get out here just to hit that shot,” Stricker said. “Hopefully, just one putt. And then we won’t tee off until 1 p.m. Maybe go back and I don’t know what we’ll do – kill time, eat breakfast a few times or something. Yeah, it would have been nice to finish.”
Stricker is seeking his third straight major victory on the PGA Tour Champions, a run that began with the Regions Tradition. He’s playing the 50-and-over event instead of going for a fourth victory at the John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour.
“I wish they were different weeks so I could play them both, but I decided to come here,” Stricker said. “I’m happy I’m here and I’m not second-guessing my decision at all.”
Paul Goydos was second at 2 under after five holes.
Ken Duke shot a 1-under 69. John Daly (8 holes), Jay Haas (15 holes), Duffy Waldorf (12 holes), Wes Short (10 holes), Miguel Angel Jiménez (8 holes), Lee Janzen (5 holes), Corey Pavin (5 holes) and Bart Bryant (3 holes) also were 1 under.
Bernhard Langer was even par after six holes. He won the tournament three straight times from 2014 through 2016.
Defending champion Vijay Singh was 1 over with two holes left.
Stricker used a 7-iron on the ace.
“We had a 6-iron out to start with and then some breeze came up a little bit and I knew the 6-iron was borderline, a little bit too much,” Stricker said. “Then once that breeze, we felt that, we thought that 7-iron was going to be the right club. Came off good, it was just a little bit left of the hole and then it broke. … That’s always something very unexpected. You don’t expect that or see that very often.”
Firestone is a longtime PGA Tour venue, hosting the World Golf Championships event and previously the World Series of Golf.
“It just is old school,” Stricker said. “It’s right there in front of you. It’s long, it’s tough, there’s not a lot of let-up holes. You have to drive it well, hit good iron shots. And if you do drive it in the trees, you can advance it up the fairway usually pretty far up around the green somewhere and then you’ve got to try to get it up-and-down with your short game.”