Thursday's golf: Munoz, Hadley share the lead at John Deere Classic

Associated Press

Silvis, Ill. — Sebastian Munoz never knows when the switch will come on and the putts start to fall, but he recognized it happening Thursday in the John Deere Classic.

Munoz was motoring along when he closed with five straight birdies at the TPC Deere Run for an 8-under 63, turning a solid day into a share of the lead with Chesson Hadley.

Sebastián Muñoz tees off on the 16th hole during the first round of the John Deere Classic golf tournament Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Silvis, Ill.

“I just go blank, to be honest,” Munoz said. “It's funny because when I make a lot of birdies, I usually play a little more safe and pick my spots. I have like 10-, 12-footers and they start to drop. That's what I did today. And that's where we're at.”

Hadley was on the other side of the course, finishing on the front nine. It wasn't nearly as spectacular, but he played bogey-free and had back-to-back birdies on three occasions. He was helped by making three of his birdies from 25 feet.

Hank Lebioda, who finished one shot out of the playoff last week in the Rocket Mortgage Classic, was poised to join them. He was 7 under through 12 holes and tied the lead with a tee shot on the 213-yard seventh hole that stopped 20 inches from the cup.

But he missed the fairway to the right on the par-4 ninth, chose to pitch back to the fairway and hit a wedge to 6 feet below the cup. He missed the par putt and had to settle for a 64. Chez Reavie and Camilo Villegas, who played in the morning, also were at 64.

Scoring was so good in immaculate conditions that nearly half the field broke 70.

Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker, who chose to play in the 50th anniversary of the John Deere Classic instead of defending his title in the U.S. Senior Open, got off to a sluggish start until he rallied with a few birdies on the front nine for a 70.

That will leave the three-time John Deere champion some work to do Friday afternoon to make the cut. But at least Stricker gets a little more sleep for that 54-year-old body.

“I'm not used to getting up at 5 in the morning anymore to play,” Stricker said. “And I kind of played like I was still asleep for a while. Righted the ship a little bit. A little disappointed that I didn't capitalize on a few more of those coming in.”

The leading player from among the top five at the end of the week earns a trip to the British Open if he's not already exempt. Munoz is in the field next week at Royal St. George's. Hadley is not, though with so many low scores, it will take two more days to sort that out.

Cam Davis, a playoff winner in Detroit last week, had to turn down his spot in the British Open. Kevin Na decided to withdraw because of travel requirements in place for family members, and next on the reserve list was Davis.

One problem. The Australian can't travel overseas. He got married last September, lives with his American-born wife in Seattle and decided to start the process of getting a green card for ease of travel overseas and going home to Australia.

He's at the stage now where he can't go overseas until he gets a temporary card. He knew that even before winning the Rocket Mortgage Classic. And he will get by.

The emotions of winning for the first time can take a toll. Davis wasn't sure if he would continue his good form or run out of gas. Thursday was a little of both. He holed an 8-foot eagle putt on the par-5 second and reached 6 under through 11 holes, only to play 2 over the rest of the way for a respectable 67.

“I’m looking forward to seeing my family and celebrating back in Seattle next week and recharging a little bit because this week is already a bit of a grind to get through,” Davis said. “I’m pretty tired. It’ll be nice to relax.”

LPGA

Sylvania, Ohio — Nasa Hataoka parred the final two holes to miss a chance for the second 59 in LPGA Tour history, finishing with a 10-under 61 and a four-stroke lead Thursday in the Marathon LPGA Classic.

Annika Sorenstam is the only player to shoot 59 on the LPGA Tour, accomplishing the feat in her 2001 Standard Register PING victory at Moon Valley in Arizona.

“When I had my ninth birdie it kind of did come to my mind,” Hataoka said. “But then, after I only having two holes (left), I just thought how great Annika was more than me getting it.”

Hataoka was a stroke off the Highland Meadows record of 60 set by Paula Creamer in 2008. The 22-year-old Japanese player had her lowest score on the LPGA Tour, topping a third-round 63 in her 2018 NWA Championship victory.

“I think what was really working is I was able to control my iron shots to make sure I could get close to the pin to get the birdies,” Hataoka said.

Hataoka had six straight birdies on Nos. 15-2 and added three more in a row on Nos. 5-7 before closing the bogey-free round with the two pars.

“I didn’t feel any pressure on myself or didn’t feel way good,” Hataoka said. “Everything was just right at the center, so I guess I would say it was the zone, yes. I was able to control everything.”

The three-time LPGA Tour winner lost a playoff to Yuka Saso a month ago in the U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic Club.

Lauren Stephenson was second after a 65. She also missed a chance to go lower on her final two holes, finishing with two pars on the par-5 17th and 18th.

“I took all of last week off,” Stephenson said. “I didn’t touch a club for eight days so I felt really just rest and recovered. I felt pretty tired at KPMG because that was my sixth week, so I knew I needed to just take a good break.”

Matilda Castren was another stroke back at 66 with Ariya Jutanugarn, Mina Harigae, Yealimi Noh and Ssu-Chia Cheng.

Castren won last week in California at foggy Lake Merced to become the first Finnish winner in LPGA Tour history. She was second behind Jin Young Ko last week in the Volunteers of America Classic in Texas.

Defending champion Danielle Kang opened with a 70.

PGA Tour Champions

Omaha, Neb. — Billy Andrade and Stephen Ames shot 5-under 65s on Thursday to share the first-round lead in the U.S. Senior Open.

Andrade had five birdies and no bogeys on an Omaha Country Club course that dried out after the sun broke through and the wind came up in the afternoon. Ames had seven birdies and two bogeys in the morning session.

Wes Short Jr. shot 66. Alex Cejka, looking for his third victory in a senior major this year, and Robert Karlsson followed at 67.

Andrade, who started on the 10th hole, pulled into a tie with Ames with a birdie on the par-5 sixth. He got up-and-down from a greenside bunker to save par on the par-4 eighth. He just missed a 20-foot downhill birdie putt on the par-4 ninth.

Andrade's best finish this season is a tie for fifth, and he has only one other top-10 in 22 events. Two weeks ago he had his worst tournament since 2014, finishing 18 over and tying for 63rd in the Senior Players Championship at Firestone. He's winless since 2015.

Ames hit 11 of 13 fairways and 16 greens in regulation on the 6,891-yard course set in the rolling hills on the north side of the city. He birdied five of seven holes in the middle of the round before missing short birdie putts on Nos. 12 and 13.

Ames made a 15-footer for birdie on the par-4 No. 14 and hit a 6-iron to 4 inches on the downhill, 223-yard par-3 No. 15. But the 57-year-old naturalized Canadian citizen from Trinidad three-putted from 8 feet for bogey on the par-4 17th and came in at 32.

Short has five top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour Champions this year and is looking for his first win in a senior major. He was steady throughout his round, making four birdies and mostly avoiding the thick rough.

Jay Haas, at 67 the oldest player in the field, shot 69.

The field includes 16 players who won a total of 26 majors before joining the senior tour. Among those playing in the Senior Open for the first time are Mike Weir (70), Jim Furyk (72), Ernie Els (73), Rich Beem (73) and Jose Maria Olazabal (77).

Bernard Langer, who has won a record 11 senior majors, shot 71.

Steve Stricker, the 2019 champion, is not playing in Omaha. He’s on the regular PGA Tour this week at the John Deere Classic. There was no U.S. Senior Open last year because of the pandemic.

Kenny Perry, who won the Senior Open here in 2013, opened with a 71. The 60-year-old Perry, who also won the Senior Open in 2017, has only two top-10 finishes in 22 events this season.

European Tour

North Berwick, Scotland — About to start his first event as a major champion, Jon Rahm was taking some practice swings on the first tee at the Scottish Open when his status as golf’s hottest player was underlined.

“On the tee,” the official starter said, “the U.S. Open champion, the Race to Dubai champion, the world No. 1 from Spain, Jon Rahm.”

An opening round of 5-under 66 saw him live up to the billing on Thursday.

Rahm mixed seven birdies with two bogeys over the links at The Renaissance Club in North Berwick and was two strokes off the lead held by Jack Senior, a 353rd-ranked English player who was upstaging one of the best fields assembled on the European Tour for some time.

No. 3-ranked Justin Thomas holed a 90-foot eagle putt and also birdied the last to wind up in a tie for second place with Lee Westwood, with both players shooting bogey-free 65s.

Rahm was a further stroke back in a nine-way tie for fourth and showing his game remains in great shape after a two-week break following his win at Torrey Pines for his first major title.

“I was a little surprised by it," Rahm said of his introduction on the first tee. "I didn’t expect it. And my ego might have gotten a little too big. I tried to hit it too hard on No. 1.”

Another major is coming up next week — the British Open at Royal St. George's in the south of England — and that explains why there is such a strong lineup at the Scottish Open, which is regularly used as a warmup event due to it also being played on a links course.

Of the other high-profile names, No. 11-ranked Rory McIlroy birdied two of his last three holes and shot 1-under 70 along with Collin Morikawa, last year's PGA Championship winner and the world No. 4.

Xander Schauffele, the No. 5, shot 67.

Senior, who has never won on the European Tour despite a stellar record as an amateur, blotted his round of 64 by bogeying his last hole — the No. 9 — after starting at the 10th.

Before that, he had rolled in eight birdies, including four in five holes from No. 4.