On a day where only 41 of the 123-player field were in red figures, it was Dustin Johnson that used a bogey-free, five-birdie performance to take a one-shot lead at the Crowne Plaza Invitational on Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas.
Johnson’s 65 was one shot better than four others, including Hunter Mahan and Harris English.
Here are 5 Things to take away from the first round at Colonial Country Club:
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1. FLAWLESS: Dustin Johnson lurked all day at Colonial, and his final birdie of the day at the par-3 16th proved to be the difference after 18 holes, carding a 5-under 65 as he searches for his second win of the 2013-14 PGA Tour campaign.
The 65 came despite the fact that Johnson used driver on only “three or four drivers max.” Johnson is second on Tour in driving distance for the season at 309.5 yards.
“I think it sets up well. This course kind of forces you to drive it, kind of everybody drives it close to the same spots, but it’s fine. I’m hitting 3‑iron off most tees,” said Johnson. “Every other hole I’m hitting 3‑iron and I hit a couple 3‑woods. I hit a 3‑wood on 18, but I’m hitting irons off every other tee, which I don’t mind at all.”
Johnson was dialed in on greens in regulation, hitting 16 of 18 on Thursday.
“I’m hitting 3‑iron off just about every tee and still have wedge to an 8‑iron is about the longest I had in to a par 4. You know, that makes things pretty easy. As long as I’m hitting my 3‑iron straight,” said Johnson.
Johnson has six top 10s in eight made cuts this season on Tour, including a pair of second-place finishes at AT&T Pebble Beach and the Northern Trust Open.
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2. GREAT START, POOR FINISH: Hunter Mahan went out Thursday afternoon and torched the front nine at Colonial Country Club to the tune of 6-under 29. But the hot start didn’t last, as Mahan closed with a 2-over 27 on the back.
He was 6 under heading to the par-4 18th before finding the right rough off the tee, failing to reach the green in three shots and making double bogey. His first-round, 4-under 66 has him a shot back of Johnson.
“You have to get over it,” Mahan said of the finish. “Playing professional golf, you’re playing a ton of golf, and not all of it is going to be great. So you learn to get over things and move on.”
Mahan has four top 10s this season, but none since the WGC-Cadillac Championship in early March. He took last week off and played Colonial a few times. The time off and extra practice has seemed to have paid off, too.
“I played good for the most part,” Mahan said. “Hit a lot of good shots and felt pretty comfortable with the irons in my hands. I was able to make a lot of great swings and have some short birdies and made some nice putts. Everything feels good.”
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3. NEW SET OF EYES: Tim Wilkinson only has six career top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, half of which came in 2008.
So, when he took the clubhouse lead at 4 under midway through the first round, it was a bit of a surprise. But Wilkinson says that his game has been close all season.
“I didn’t get in many events early in the season in the fall. Played one in Mexico and finished 10th there. A few things going on, I got sick in Hawaii, and had a lot of different incidences handed to me this year,” said Wilkinson. “But I played well at Pebble Beach, got a lot of confidence from that. I just made a lot of cuts. I had a bad nine holes here and there. That’s really about it.”
Wilkinson, of New Zealand, also pointed to working with longtime PGA Tour pro Grant Waite as a catalyst for his better play. While Waite isn’t his full-time coach, he has helped Wilkinson in create more force by using the ground.
“I’ve known him for 25 years, actually. We grew up at the same golf club and picked up a bit more distance off the tee, which is always nice. I feel like I’m hitting it straighter as well, and a bit more control over my ball. So playing in the wind, I grew up on a course very similar to (Colonial), tree‑lined, a little wind. So I feel it’s a comfortable place,” said Wilkinson.
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4. DEADLY DRIVER: Tim Clark isn’t shy about what allows him to have so much success at Colonial CC – it’s his driver. He isn’t the longest of hitters, so he can keep his tee ball in the fairway with driver instead of trying to move the ball with a fairway wood or iron.
“Yeah, the great thing with this track is I can hit a lot of drivers where guys are trying to hit irons or whatever to keep it in the fairway. So a lot of times I’m closer to the green than the other guys,” said Clark after a 3-under 67 put him in the thick of things.
“So that only happens about once a year for me, so that’s really why I enjoy this course. You have to drive it on the fairway. And today I drove it really well.”
Clark has endured a dismal PGA Tour campaign to this point, missing six cuts in 13 events, as well as a withdrawal at the Sony Open in January. Needless to say, Clark was holding out hope that Thursday was a turn for the better.
“I’ve got to get going somewhere. Like I say, it’s been a long, tough year so far. I haven’t felt like I played terribly the last few weeks but I’ve missed the cuts. This might just be the turnaround for me,” said Clark.
Clark lost in a 2009 playoff at the Crowne Plaza, while also picking up a T-7 and T-19 the past two years.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Rickie Fowler posted a 10-over 80 that included a pair of triple-bogeys. After the round, he cited flu-like symptoms that hampered him all day . . . TCU All-American Julien Brun decided to play in the Crowne Plaza instead of taking an invitation to the NCAA Championship as an individual, but it was a forgettable opening round after a 7-over 77 . . . There were plenty of big-name stars that will be looking to rally on Friday, including Adam Scott (71), Matt Kuchar (72), Nick Watney (74) and Kevin Stadler (74) . . . On the other end of the spectrum, a handful of standout players are within two shots of the lead, as Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner and Jimmy Walker all fired 3-under 67s.