Steve Wheatcroft shot a career-best round on the PGA Tour with a 9-under par 62 on Thursday to take a one-shot lead after the first round of the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill.
Michael Kim is in solo second place at 8-under, followed by a group of five players another shot back that includes Johnson Wagner, Joel Dahmen, Canada’s Nick Taylor, Argentina’s Andres Romero and South Korea’s Whee Kim.
Italy’s Francesco Molinari, who has two wins and a runner-up finish in his past four worldwide starts, is tied for eighth place with Scott Brown.
Defending champion Bryson DeChambeau withdrew on the 16th hole with a right shoulder injury he initially suffered while trying to hit out of the rough on the second hole.
Wheatcroft’s round at the Par 71 TPC Deere Run started innocuously enough with a par of birdies on the front nine. He got to 3-under with a birdie on the 10th hole, then after a pair of pars he reeled of six consecutive birdies to close his round.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever done that to finish a round, it’s great,” Wheatcroft told the Golf Channel. “I tried to keep this round going, I asked if we could just go to the first tee and start Round 2.”
Wheatcroft, who is ranked 927 in the world, is playing for the sixth time in seven weeks. He has missed the cut in 11 of his past 15 tournaments, but said he was encouraged by improvement in his game in tying for 61st and 65th the past two weeks.
The biggest aspect holding him back was an inconsistent driver. So he worked with the Callaway reps on the range Wednesday and had a new head put on his driver.
“I’ve been playing well the past few weeks,” Wheatcroft said. “Just the driver … I’ve hit one or two screwballs a round that have cost me a bogey or double bogey and it has really hurt me. So I got tired of that.
“I hadn’t played one hole of golf with it, and just trusted it today and it was really good. It was good to know that I could aim down the middle and swing and it wasn’t going to be a wipe right and it wasn’t going to be anything crazy.”
Wheatcroft is ranked 209th in the FedExCup Standings with six weeks to go before the end of the regular season. He needs a few good events to approach the top 125 to secure his PGA Tour card for next season and qualify for the playoffs.
“I’m just focused on playing and making birdies,” Wheatcroft said. “I’m so far behind the 8-ball at this point, I just want to keep playing golf, keep making birdies. You know, 62 … we’ll try to throw three more 62s at them and hopefully that’s good enough.”
DeChambeau said he was diagnosed with instability in his shoulder joint after being evaluated after walking off the course. He will travel to Scotland in a few days in hopes of playing in next week’s British Open, but said a decision won’t be made until being evaluated Monday.
“I was feeling great coming into today … but clearly after No. 2 it was not great,” he said. “I’m 24, I’m not that old, but I’ve used my body down quite a bit. I just need to take care of my body a little bit better.
“Unfortunately these things happen. If I can get three of four good days of good rest in. Evaluate it on Monday. Hopefully by next week I’ll be ready to go.”
NOTES: The player who finishes highest in the top five this week who is not already qualified will earn a spot in the British Open. … Eight of the past 10 winners of the event have gone on to qualify for the season-ending TOUR Championship. … 2012 champion Zach Johnson, who is making his 17th consecutive start at the John Deere Classic, is tied for 55th at 2-under.
–Field Level Media