American Charley Hoffman kick-started his bid for redemption at the Travelers Championship with a stunning nine-under-par 61 for a one-shot lead after Thursday’s opening round in Connecticut.
Hoffman, looking to atone for last year’s collapse when he squandered a two-shot lead with two holes to play, turned a steady start of five straight pars into a sensational round, carding five birdies and two eagles over the final 13 holes.
Compatriot Hunter Mahan, fresh off a share of fourth place at the US Open, was alone in second following a bogey-free, eight-birdie 62, while big-hitting Bubba Watson sits third following an entertaining 63.
Hoffman came to the 17th tee in last season’s event at TPC River Highlands with a two-shot lead over Marc Leishman’s clubhouse number, but double-bogeyed to drop into a tie before making bogey on 18 to hand the Australian the win.
“Believe it or not, I was thinking about [last year] going down 16, 17, 18,” said Hoffman, whose round included a course record-equalling back nine of 28. “If I could have just gotten those balls in play, I would have been defending champion here. But this year, I got off to a good start and was obviously a little more focused on those last two holes. Hopefully, I’m there again this year.”
Americans Webb Simpson and Zach Johnson were among six players in a tie for fourth following 65s.
US Open champion Justin Rose of England was in a tie for 18th with a respectable three-under 67 that followed a whirlwind few days doing the talk show circuit to discuss his breakthrough major win at Merion.
Defending champion Leishman shot 68 and was among eight players in a tie for 10th.
Ernie Els produced his lowest score in seven months on Thursday to storm to the front in the 25th anniversary BMW International Open in Munich.
The reigning Open champion broke free from what he described as last week’s US Open “torture chamber” at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, to record an eagle and seven birdies in sauna-like conditions on the Muenchen Eichenried course.
Four players, former event winner Martin Kaymer of Germany, Sweden’s Alex Noren, England’s Matthew Baldwin and Dutchman Robert Jan Derksen, share second place on eight-under-par.
It is Els’ lowest round on either the European or PGA Tour since a similar score in the second round of November’s WGC-HSBC Champions event in China.
“It was a very nice round and I haven’t shot that number for quite a while,” the South African said. “Today was like walking out of the torture chamber that was last week’s US Open and walking onto a nice parkland golf course.”
“Of course, you still have to hit the shots, but I felt like I was starting to swing the club last weekend at Merion and I’m lucky enough I could bring it here to Munich. Even though I am now leading, it doesn’t really matter much until Sunday, but if you get into the race, so to speak, early on in the tournament, it’s nice to be right in the hunt,” he added.