While there are plenty of stars in the field at this week’s Travelers Championship – from Matt Kuchar to Dustin Johnson – it was Brendan Steele who took control of the tournament early, firing an 8-under 62 to take a one-shot lead on Thursday at TPC River Highlands.
Steele is one clear of Bud Cauley and Ryan Moore after 18 holes.
Here are 5 Things to know after one round of play in Connecticut:
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1. MAKING A STATEMENT: Brendan Steele didn’t wait long to take control of this tournament, holing out for eagle on the par-4 first hole with a 129-yard wedge shot en route to a bogey-free, six-birdie round at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn.
The 62 was two shy of Patrick Cantlay’s course record of 60, set in 2011 when playing the tournament as an amateur.
Steele hit 15 greens in regulation and was ninth in the field in strokes-gained putting at 2.383.
The UC Riverside product is making his 19th start on Tour – he missed out on the U.S. Open last week – and has missed seven cuts coming into the week. He did finish T-6 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February and T-10 at the Northern Trust Open later in the month, but had missed his last two cuts prior to this week.
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2. TAKING ADVANTAGE: Eric Axley started the day on the outside looking in, but when Briny Baird withdrew due to a back injury, Axley found himself with a tee time at the Travelers.
And, boy, did he capitalize on his chance, firing a bogey-free, 6-under 64 to sit two shots back of Steele.
The East Tennessee State product is making his sixth PGA Tour start of the season, with only one top-25 finish under his belt (Puerto Rico Open).
Axley, who turned pro in 1997, isn’t a stranger to success on Tour, winning the Valero Texas Open in 2006. Between 2006 and 2009, Axley averaged 32 starts on Tour, with five top-10 finishes.
But he lost his full card in 2010, and this week ties him for the most starts on Tour over the past five seasons. He failed to make a Tour cut in 2011 and 2013.
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3. NICE DEBUT: Patrick Rodgers, who recently was named the Haskins Award winner for 2014, made quite an impression in his professional start Thursday, posting a 4-under 66 to sit four shots off the lead.
After opening his round with a bogey, Rodgers picked up birdies at Nos. 6, 7 and 9 to make the turn at 3 under.
He’d start his back nine with a bogey as well, but made a 9-footer for eagle on No. 13 and added a birdie on No. 17 to finish the opening round in a tie for 16th.
There are a handful of others making their pro debuts this week, with Oliver Goss (Tennessee) opening with an even-par 70; Bobby Wyatt (Alabama) posting a 2-over 72; and Cameron Wilson (Stanford) bogeying his final hole for a 3-over 73.
Amateur and Georgia standout Joey Garber started with a 2-over 72.
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4. STARS SHINE BRIGHT: Normally, many of the game’s best take the week off after a major, but that isn’t the case this week.
And those stars are taking advantage of prime scoring conditions after being humbled by Pinehurst No. 2 last week.
Sergio Garcia, Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka are all at 5 under, while Keegan Bradley, Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson are all T-16 at 4 under. Bubba Watson is one further back at 3 under, good for a tie for 28th.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Days removed from his first hole-in-one in competition, Zach Johnson provided more fireworks on Thursday, holing out from 72 feet on the short par-4 15th hole for an eagle. Johnson is T-102 at 1 over. … Making only his ninth start of the PGA Tour season, John Daly opened with an even-par 72. … Former UCLA All-American Patrick Cantlay is making his second Tour start of the season, posting a 1-over 71. … U.S. Open darling Erik Compton didn’t carry over his momentum to the Travelers, posting a 4-over 74. … Louis Oosthuizen withdrew after seven holes due to lingering back issues.