Start to round was Mathis’s ace in the hole
CROMWELL, Conn. - Starting his round as if he were on a miniature golf course - 3-1-3 - David Mathis rode the ace and two birdies into a back-nine 30 and the first-round lead Thursday at the Travelers Championship.
Mathis shot a 6-under-par 64 at TPC River Highlands, the lowest round of his PGA Tour career, one in which he had held a lead at the end of the first round just once, last year in Memphis (where he tied for 13th).
Now he has the lead again, in a season that began with seven consecutive missed cuts, and 10 in his first 11 tournaments.
“There’s so much golf left, you’re just thankful to play a solid round, whether you’re in first or whether you’re in fifth,’’ Mathis said. “It’s all about trying to build on it and being there toward the end and giving yourself an opportunity to win.
“It’s a good start, and just want to build on that.’’
He couldn’t have started any better. Beginning his round on No. 10, Mathis rolled in a 22-foot birdie putt. On the par-3 11th, his 9-iron from 158 yards was struck perfectly, landing just in front of the hole, taking a small hop to the right, and disappearing for a hole-in-one.
He then canned a 49-foot birdie putt on No. 12, made a par at the par-5 13th - the easiest hole in this stretch - and added birdies at the 14th and 15th. Six holes played, 6 under par.
Ever had that kind of start?
“Yes, I have,’’ said Mathis, who said he birdied the first seven holes in a casual round once in Canada. “In a tournament, no. I’ve had some nice rounds, but nothing like that.’’
His 64 left him a stroke in front of Nathan Green, Will Claxton, and defending champion Fredrik Jacobson, who reached 7 under before he made a double bogey at the par-3 16th.
Cameron Tringale birdied three of his first four holes and four of his first six, finding his way onto the leaderboard. But a two-stroke penalty on No. 6 (he started at the 10th) left Tringale - and at least one of the other members of his group - seeing red.
Tringale’s ball moved slightly after he had picked up his mark on the sixth green. That part he doesn’t dispute. But when he called a rules official over, it was determined that Tringale had already addressed his ball, which meant a two-stroke penalty.
A par became a double-bogey 7, and what could have been a 67 turned into a 69.
Tommy Gainey, who shot 66 in the same group, spoke with a rules official after the round, arguing that an assumption that Tringale had reached address was wrong, and that the penalty should have been one stroke, not two.
“It was unclear, the ball moved sometime between taking my practice strokes and setting the putter behind the ball,’’ Tringale said. “I was looking at the hole, I always look while I set the putter down, so when I looked down, it had moved, maybe a third of a revolution.
“The rule’s the rule. It’s just poorly written. It’s not specific enough. It’s very vague. Bad break, but plenty of time left.’’
Course bites back
Only one player finished ahead of Michael Thompson at the US Open last week, and that was Webb Simpson. On an Olympic Club course that averaged 73.8 for the week, Thompson had a 66 in the first round, and closed with 67, sandwiched around 75-74.
The result was Thompson’s best finish on tour, eclipsing the fourth place he earned at last year’s Travelers, and a solo third at the McGladrey Classic.
Returning to the TPC River Highlands course he blitzed last year (69-64-64-67), Thompson finished ahead of only three players in the first round, suffering through a 78, his second-highest score this year.
Thompson was actually 1 under through six holes before his round took a wrong turn: bogeys at Nos. 7-8, two more at the 10th and 12th, then a triple on the par-5 13th. His tee ball there found the water, and he eventually three-putted.
His worst score at TPC River Highlands had been a final-round 73 in 2008, when he tied for 59th as an amateur.
68 for Driscoll
Another player who had a strong Travelers a year ago was Boston’s James Driscoll, who finished fifth. He opened with 68 this year, looking to end a two-tournament streak of missed cuts . . . Fran Quinn of Holden, Mass., making just his fourth tour start of the season, had a 72 . . . Zach Johnson had an interesting round, with two early bogeys, then rattling off five birdies in a six-hole stretch to reach 3 under with four holes to go. But Johnson double bogeyed the drivable par-4 15th (without any penalty strokes), then rinsed his tee shot on No. 17, which led to a triple-bogey 7. Johnson, who has just one Travelers finish better than 18th in six previous appearances, signed for 72 . . . Patrick Cantlay, making his pro debut this week, had three double bogeys in his round of 75. Another former amateur joining the for-pay ranks this week, Daniel Miernicki, began his professional career with a 74. Miernicki played at Oregon for Casey Martin, and nearly joined his coach at last week’s US Open, losing in a playoff for a spot at his sectional qualifier.