Birdies galore for Love after fresh start at Deere Run
CHICAGO (Reuters) - PGA Tour veteran Davis Love III, refreshed and energized after a two-week break, charged into a share of the early lead in the John Deere Classic first round on Thursday.
The 47-year-old American, bidding for his first victory on the U.S. circuit since the 2008 Disney Classic, fired a flawless seven-under-par 64 in ideal scoring conditions at the TPC Deere Run course in Silvis, Illinois.
Love racked up seven birdies to end the round level with Canadian journeyman Matt McQuillan, who rocketed up the leaderboard after making a wild bogey-eagle-bogey start.
Mark Wilson and fellow American Kyle Stanley opened with 65 while world number five Steve Stricker, in pursuit of a third consecutive victory at Deere Run, was among a group of eight players knotted on 66.
"You felt like you had to shoot a good score this morning," Love told reporters after covering his final nine in three-under 32. "It was nice and calm, with very good greens.
"I got off to a good start with the putter and, other than a couple of drives, hit the ball real well. So, all in all, a real good day."
Love felt he had benefited from two relaxing weeks away from competition.
"I watched my son play a fair amount of golf ... I watched my daughter ride horses," he said. "I went paddle boarding five mornings in a row as my workouts.
"I think it's important to be mentally refreshed and physically strong. We've seen that with a lot of the top players lately, from Greg Norman to Tiger (Woods). If they're in shape and they feel good, it gives them confidence."
While Love may have reached the twilight of a glittering career that features a major victory at the 1997 PGA Championship and a total of 20 PGA Tour titles, he retains a sharp hunger for winning.
"I don't put an age on it," he said. "I still want to see how good I can get, whether I can get back to whatever level or if I can win more than 20.
"If it's only 20 (PGA Tour titles), that's great but I'm hoping I get a lot farther than that and stay competitive."
McQuillan, who has played most of his golf on the Canadian Tour and other second-tier circuits, was delighted to rebound from a poor start to his round.
"I hit it in the trees with a three-wood off the first hole, so I didn't really know what to expect for the day," the 30-year-old said.
"I chipped in for eagle on two and hit it in a bad spot on three and made another bogey but, from there on, it was a pretty flawless round."
Stricker, the highest-ranked player in the field, soared into early contention after playing in the company of fellow American Wilson.
"We played good," Stricker said. "We lost David Toms at the turn but Mark Wilson and I, we kind of fed off one another. ... even though it was a twosome it was a good group."
Toms, U.S. PGA champion in 2001, pulled out after nine holes because a hip injury. The 44-year-old American has also withdrawn from next week's British Open at Royal St George's.
The last two British Open champions, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and American Stewart Cink, were among the late starters in the opening round at Deere Run.
(Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)