Johnson right back in tie for Deere lead

Zach Johnson during Thursday's first round of the PGA Tour's 2014 John Deere Classic.
Zach Johnson during Thursday's first round of the PGA Tour's 2014 John Deere Classic. ( Associated Press )

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Zach Johnson, who was a playoff hole short of winning last year's John Deere Classic, shot 63 Thursday to tie for the lead at 8 under with Brian Harman and Rory Sabbatini.

The day also saw a fill-in caddie for a co-leader, a go-low season debut by an early contender and struggles for the defending champ. Here are 5 Things to know from Silvis, Ill.

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1. HOME COOKING: Hailing from nearby Cedar Rapids, Zach Johnson typically finds a friendly gallery in the Quad Cities. Thursday, the course was to his liking as well – carding all eight of his birdies in the first 11 holes before closing with seven straight pars as he earned a share of the lead.

Did the early success have him thinking about becoming the latest Mr. 59?

"Very briefly," Johnson said. "If you're going to do it, you still have to hit it solid. Maybe I mis-clubbed on 6, but I could have birdied 8. I hit only one really bad shot, and that was the second shot at 9.

"… I'd rather have 59 wins than shoot 59," said Johnson, who won the Deere in 2012 as part of three straight years with at least one win. He's looking for just his second top-10 since January, however.

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2. DOUBLE LOOP: On the back nine, Brian Harman carded the only bogey of the three co-leaders but had four straight birdies prior and back-to-back birdies after for his best round of the year by two shots.

Six of those birdies, by the way, came as he checked his own yardages with a fill-in caddie on his bag after Scott Tway became sick.

"He was up all night feeling really bad. … He's tough as nails, but I looked in his eyes one time and he really didn't look OK," Harman said of Tway.

Coming off two missed cuts, Harman then got an impromptu assist from high school basketball coach Jay Hatch of Davenport, Iowa. "I met him on the 7th tee box," Harman added, "… I guess he coaches women's golf, and he's got two girls. We talked a lot. He said he always wanted an opportunity to see inside the ropes, so we had a lot of fun."

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3. SPIETH SLIDES: Defending champion Jordan Spieth, who last year edged Johnson and David Hearn in a playoff, shot a 71 and is T-80, as is Hearn. Spieth earned his first Tour win by holing out from a bunker on the tournament's 72nd hole, then winning a playoff. Thursday, the magic was missing as a round of even par has him on the outside of the cut line looking in. Spieth said he stayed out of trouble for the most part, but didn't give himself enough birdie opportunities.

The extra activity associated with being a tourney's defending champ hasn't added pressure, though. "The Open Championship is next week. That is the week where I'll feel the majority of the pressure. That is a major. That's one of four or five events on the year," he said. "This feels close to a major with all the stuff leading in and kind of the adrenaline to start. But, yeah, I'm going to just go out there tomorrow and try to play bogey-free golf."

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4. CROWDED AT THE TOP: Rory Sabbatini opened with three straight birdies at Nos. 2-4 and repeated the feat at Nos. 15-17 to buoy his 63 for a share of the lead – but he, Johnson and Harman have plenty of reason to keep the throttle open. Steven Bowditch, Todd Hamilton and William McGirt are tied for fourth a shot back of the lead, each shooting 64. Brendon de Jonge, Robert Streb, David Toms and Kevin Tway shot 65 to stand T-7, with six more players at 5 under. As if 13 players within three shots of the lead aren't enough of a challenge for the co-leaders to stay atop the field, seven more players are 4 under and 12 more are 3 under.

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5. SHORT SHOTS: Three birdies from Nos. 5-8 carried Steve Stricker to a 3-under 68 as he chases his fourth win in this event. … David Gossett, who won the Deere in 2001, six-putted the No. 5 green for a quadruple-bogey eight – the 20th such putting performance on Tour since 1992. … Citing a back injury, Patrick Cantlay withdrew before his round.

Associated Press contributed; an earlier version of the story improperly described the order of Harman's nines.