CROMWELL, Conn. – Mackenzie Hughes shot a career low 60 on Thursday to take the first round at the Travelers Championship, while the PGA Tour attempted to shift his focus back to golf amid growing concerns about the corona virus.
Hughes, a 29-year-old Canadian, had the chance to shoot the 12th sub-60 round in PGA Tour history, but his 40-foot birdie attempt on his last hole fell short. Jim Furyk shot a 12-under 58 on the same TPC River Highlands course four years ago, the lowest score in a tour event.
“I was kidding when I walked out of there that 59 wasn’t even the record because of Jim’s 58,” Hughes said. “It’s probably not that special here. But it would have been neat as a personal milestone. ”
It was good enough for a three-shot lead over Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele and Viktor Hovland, who each shot 63 on a low-scoring day.
Phil Mickelson, paired with McIlroy in his first competitive round since he turned 50, was one of six players to shoot 64. Bryson DeChambeau’s 65 was the worst score in the selection trio.
There were 106 players who broke par. The record for a day at TPC River Highlands was in 2011, when 111 players were 1-under or better in the second round.
Hughes’ bogey-free round included a 30-foot birdie putt on his penultimate hole, the par-3 eighth. Patrick Cantlay was the last to make 60 recordings in 2011 at TPC River Highlands.
McIlroy, who also started on the back nine, watched par-5 13th and followed with two straight birdies. He made four more birdies on the first nine for a 31.
“It was just fun to play golf again,” said McIlroy. “You know, it doesn’t feel the same because you don’t have thousands of people responding to your birdies and getting that started. I felt the weekends were a little flat for me just because you are in discussion then and that’s where you start feeling it. Honestly, Thursdays and Fridays don’t feel that different, but they do on weekends. ‘
Mickelson heard earlier Thursday that he was getting an exemption from this year’s US Open for being in the top 70 in the world on March 15, when golf was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was great to know that I have the opportunity to go back to Winged Foot and try again,” said Mickelson, who finished second at Winged Foot in 2006 after a double bogey on the 72nd hole. “But I had 30 US Opens. I’ve had a lot of opportunities and if I don’t qualify I want someone else who also deserves a place to play. As long as I play well enough to compete to earn my way to the field, I want to play and keep trying to win that tournament. ”
Schauffele and Hovland were the best under the afternoon golf. Schauffele was 8 under to 16 holes, but missed a 7-footer for par on the 17th.
“The greens tightened a little,” he said. “The wind, a little bit of wind can make any course difficult, so in terms of hitting very hard it got a little trickier in the day.”
Hovland made a sloppy bogey at 17 but recovered with a wedge up to 4 feet on the par-4 18th for birdie.
Abraham Ancer, last week’s RBC Heritage runner-up, finished 155-yard 16th. His 8 iron landed just above the pond guarding the green and rolled 6 feet into the hole.
“It was very anti-climax because there was no one around and we couldn’t get a high five or so, but still it was great to have my first PGA Tour bait,” said Ancer, who shot 67.
The run-up to the tournament was consumed by news about the corona virus and questions about how long the tour could continue after two players – Nick Watney and Cameron Champ – and the caddies for Brooks Koepka and Graeme McDowell tested positive. Those were the only four positive tests from the 1,382 the tour had performed since his return.
Players who test positive must withdraw. Koepka, his brother Chase, McDowell and last week’s winner, Webb Simpson, withdrew from concerns about the virus. The Travelers is the third event on the tour calendar since golf resumed.
The shooting opened the door for alternates, including Tyler McCumber, who arrived from his Florida home on Wednesday night and shot 65.
McCumber missed the cut on the Korn Ferry Tour last week, then went camping for a few days in the Pisgah Forest in North Carolina.
“I came back on Tuesday thinking I had no chance to participate in the tournament, and then received a call from the tour about the possibility of coming here,” he said.