(Reuters) – Charles Howell III, seeking to end a decade-long victory drought, made a sizzling start with an eight-under-par 63 to share the first-round lead at the John Deere Classic on Thursday.
Howell, firing on all cylinders again a couple of weeks after returning from a lengthy spell out with a rib injury, plundered eight birdies in a flawless opening round at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois.
PGA Tour rookie Ollie Schniederjans also carded a 63 for a share in a two-shot lead over fellow Americans Zach Johnson, Chad Campbell and Patrick Rodgers as well as South African Rory Sabbatini, who all shot 65s.
Co-leader Howell has an astonishing record of near-misses on tour with 16 runner-up finishes to accompany his two victories.
His latest second-placing came two weeks ago at the Quicken Loans National, where he putted so well it “scared” him.
That performance came on his return from the injury, which prevented him from practicing anything but his putting.
“All I did was putt for nine weeks but you never know if that means success or not,” the 38-year-old told PGATour.com.
“That can go one way or the other. My putter and I spent a lot of time together.”
While Howell enjoyed benign morning conditions on a course that invariably offers plenty of birdie chances, Schniederjans posted his score in the afternoon and could have had the outright lead but for a bogey at his ninth hole.
“Finally got some putts to go in there at the end,” the 24-year-old said after picking up three shots in his final four holes.
“I feel sharp at this point,” Schniederjans said. “I took a few weeks off to rest up, get my body back. I had something click last week and I just feel very good about my game and my body right now.”
Twice major champion Johnson continued his superb record in his hometown event, where he has had six top-three finishes, including a victory in 2012.
“I know this golf course, clearly,” he said. “I’ve played this tour event more than any so I’m very comfortable with the course, essentially any wind.
“That said, you still have to execute and today was one of those good days.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Nick Mulvenney)