Jordan Spieth enjoyed a superb debut at the Travelers Championship as he fired a seven-under 63 to claim the outright lead after the first round.
Spieth rolled in his eighth birdie putt of the day at the last to edge ahead of Johnson Wagner and Brett Stegmaier, while Rory McIlroy was also in good form on his first visit to TPC River Highlands as he rebounded from his missed cut at the US Open with a 67.
But Jason Day’s struggles continued as he slumped to a 72, while two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson also faces an uphill battle to avoid another weekend off as he returned a 75 which included a triple-bogey eight at the 13th.
McIlroy’s lack of competitive golf after an injury-ravaged 2017 was evident at Erin Hills last week, but his long game appeared in decent order in Connecticut although he missed a number of chances to improve on his four-birdie round.
After a good par save from 15 feet at the 10th – his first – McIlroy converted a nice approach to three feet at the 12th and missed makeable putts from 12 feet or less at three of the next four holes before atoning at the 17th.
The world No 3 then lipped out from barely three feet to drop a shot at 18, but he picked up further birdies at the first and third and should have made it three in a row had he not missed from four feet at the second.
McIlroy passed up another good chance at the sixth, but he parred safely in to remain at three under, and he said: “You can give yourself plenty of chances around here if you hit it well off the tee, and it’s sort of stress-free golf. I shot three under today but it could have been a whole lot better.
“I hit some good putts and I think I hit the hole five or six times without the ball dropping. A few of those go in, it’s a different story, and all of a sudden you’re shooting something in the low 60s and you’re feeling really good about yourself. I just have to stay patient and keep trying to hit good putts and hopefully they will drop.”
The putts were certainly dropping for Spieth, who admitted he struggled on the greens at Erin Hills last week until he rediscovered his touch with the flat stick during his final-round 69.
Spieth got off to a great start with birdies at three of the first four holes, and he picked up further shots at seven and eight before blotting his card at the ninth, where he bunkered his approach and missed from inside six feet to save par.
He got back on track with birdies at the 13th and 14th, and a wedge to four feet at the final hole set up his eighth birdie of the day and lifted him ahead of Wagner and Stegmaier, who reeled off seven birdies in nine holes mid-round but cost himself a share of the lead with a bogey at the ninth..
Padraig Harrington made an encouraging first start since getting knocked on the elbow by his pro-am playing-partner at the FedEx St Jude Classic earlier this month, the Irishman carding four birdies and keeping a bogey off his card in a 66.
McIlroy was joined on three under by Jim Furyk, who created history on the same course last year when he became the first man to shoot 58 on the PGA Tour, while Paul Casey is the leading English challenger on two under par.