Jordan Spieth struggled in his return to the PGA Tour on Thursday, firing an even-par 71 in the opening round of the John Deere Classic, the final tune-up event before the British Open.
Spieth is having a year for the ages after winning the first two major championships of the season and is hoping to use the US PGA Tour’s John Deere as a springboard for success at the British Open which begins in one week.
The 21-year-old has happy memories after winning this event as a teenager in 2013 to become the youngest winner on the PGA Tour in 82 years, beating Zach Johnson and David Hearn in a playoff.
But he has his work cut out for him if he is to do it again as he finished eight shots back of the leaders on Thursday with three bogeys, three birdies and 12 pars in the first round at the TPC Deere Run.
Spieth was six shots back after round one when he won in 2013.
“Just a rusty round,” said Spieth, who was criticised by some for playing this week instead of travelling to Europe to get ready for the British Open.
“I didn’t get out on the golf course like maybe I should have.”
Americans Justin Thomas and Nicholas Thompson shot matching eight-under-par 63s to grab a one-stroke lead.
Thomas, who contended at last week’s Greenbrier Classic and is gunning for his first US tour title, began on the back nine and rolled in 10 birdies in his round.
Thomas, who had an early start, had three straight pars from 10.
He drained a six-footer for birdie at 13, but gave that shot back with a bogey on 14.
He responded by going on a run to finish up his front nine.
Thomas ran off four straight birdies from 15, capped off by a putt from 53 feet at the par-four 18th.
A pair of pars at one and two started off Thomas’ closing nine. Thomas, 22, finished up with a par at the ninth.
Luke Guthrie bogeyed the last hole and he fell into a share of third place with Charles Howell with both on seven under.
American Steve Stricker, who has won this event three times, is in the hunt once again following his six-under 65.
He is tied for fifth with Robert Garrigus, Daniel Summerhays, Shawn Stefani and Steven Alker.
Defending champion Brian Harman shot a four-under 67, putting him in a tie for 21st.
Greg Chalmers is the leading Australian at three under.