John Deere Classic: Birdies aplenty – for now – as Roberto Diaz fires 62 for lead


SILVIS, Ill. — Most of the time at the birdie bonanza otherwise known as the John Deere Classic, it takes an opening round closer to 60 than 70 to find one’s way into contention.

And even though there weren’t the crazy-low first 18 holes to be had at the par-71 TPC Deere Run this summer — think Paul Goydos’ 59 in 2010 or Troy Matteson’s 10-under round two years later — there have been few Thursdays as ripe for overall scoring than this one at the Quad Cities track.

So at first blush — with Mexico’s Roberto Diaz holding a two-stroke lead after a 9-under 62, and 19 players at 5-under or better and nearly 100 breaking par — it’d seem like this PGA Tour event is headed toward the familiar territory of a victorious total near 20-under.

I just feel that everything clicked today,” 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 had good numbers all day, and that helps.”

But ultra-fast fairways and firm, slick greens aren’t usually the July recipe here. If the rain-free forecast holds as expected, at least a couple of pros near the lead are pumping the brakes on the usual idea of 72 holes at full throttle.

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“I think it’s going to be a totally different golf course on Saturday and Sunday,” said Andrew Landry, who posted a bogey-free, 6-under 65 early in the day. “I think, once the greens get a little bit firmer, which they will — and the green speeds are already up right now — you can put yourself in weird spots with some pretty crazy putts that are stupid fast.

“… I think it’s going to be a little different this year, honestly,” he added, projecting a winning score closer to the mid-teens below par.

Adam Long took the early lead in Round 1 Thursday at the John Deere Classic with a 7-under 64. (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

Adam Long made eight birdies and needed just 26 putts on the way to his 7-under 64. He shares second place with Russell Henley, and five other golfers share fourth place along with Landry.

“I don’t think I’ve ever lost the belief that I can have a nice tournament or have a nice round,” said Henley, who has three victories to his credit and last won in April 2017 at the Houston Open. “It’s just a matter of a few bumps in the road here and there. But I’m just trying to keep working hard and keep my head down.”

The 31-year-old Long won his first PGA Tour event this past January, edging Phil Mickelson down the stretch at the Desert Classic. But he’s missed 11 cuts in 17 events since.

The next day’s course conditions, then, are probably taking a bit of a backseat to simply finding the proper road again.

“One thing or another hasn’t been working for me there — either ball-striking or putting,” Long said. “And today, finally, everything was starting to trend in the right direction.”

Matthew Wolff’s career compass has been pointed straight to stardom the past seven days. The 20-year-old winner at last week’s 3M Open kicked out of neutral with four birdies in his final nine holes to shoot a 67 and share 20th place.

He’s already seeing his prodigious power off the tee lead to big advantages. After starting on the back nine and parring each hole on that side, he nearly drove the green on the 403-yard par-4 first. Birdie.

Then, he uncorked a 369-yard drive on the 565-yard par-5 second hole. He blasted a 9-iron almost 190 yards onto the green and two-putted. Birdie.

He whacked another short iron 170 yards uphill to the par-3 third and sank a 9-footer. Birdie.

In all, a 4-under follow-up to that first win is like cruise control.

“The weight off my shoulders is really big — just going out here, freeing up and not just really worrying about ‘I have to get my Tour card’,” he said. “There’s really no pressure on me anymore. I’m doing what I do, and I just love being out here.”

And count Wolff in the camp of those who want to see the course get rock-hard.

“The firmer the better,” he affirmed. “I hit it high, and I can spin the ball a lot on the greens. I think I like playing harder courses — not only condition-wise but just score-wise, and it’s cool. This course is in amazing shape.”

One little reality check is in order, however: Just because this weekend may be something other than the stress-free stroll these pros are used to doesn’t mean the birdie well is running dry.

“I’ve never thought it was that easy, but a lot of guys seem to think it’s easy,” Henley said.

The “lot of guys” might be right, for now: TPC Deere Run played to a scoring average of 69.6, the third-lowest first-round total since the tournament moved to this venue in 2000.

“Yeah, 7-under on Sunday won’t be in a very good position,” Long said.

Shooting 7-under on Thursday, however, with potentially tougher conditions ahead? That’s mighty fine.

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