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Hughes fires 60 to take PGA Travelers lead over McIlroy

Four-time major champion McIlroy had six birdies and an eagle against a lone bogey.

Rory McIlroy in action in the opening round.
Rory McIlroy in action in the opening round.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

MACKENZIE HUGHERS FIRED a 10-under-par 60 Thursday at TPC River Highlands to seize a three-stroke lead over top-ranked Rory McIlroy in round one of the PGA Travelers Championship.

Hughes, a 29-year-old Canadian, sank 10 birdies at TPC River Highlands for a career-low round and the lowest first-round in tournament history, but he was short on a 40-foot birdie putt on his final hole to miss a 59.

“It was pretty fun,” Hughes said. “The hole starts to look pretty big. You’re just thinking about making birdies. Unfortunately I came up one short, but I beat my career best so that made me feel pretty good.”

Hughes shined over the same layout where American Jim Furyk fired a US PGA record 12-under 58 in the 2016 final round at Cromwell, Connecticut.

Four-time major champion McIlroy had six birdies and an eagle against a lone bogey to stand second behind fellow back-nine starter Hughes in the clubhouse as the afternoon wave took to the course.

Hughes birdied three holes in a row starting at the par-5 sixth to give himself a chance to crack 60, holing putts from inside three feet at six, 12 feet at seven and a dramatic 30-footer at the par-3 eighth.

“It felt pretty doable,” Hughes said. “Just came up one short but it was a nice run.”

At the par-4 ninth, Hughes left himself 40 feet for birdie with four feet of break, then came up four feet short and sank the par putt.

Hughes began his birdie binge with a 30-footer from the fringe at the par-3 11th, then reeled off five birdies in a row to close the back side, his first nine of the day.

“It was a slow build,” Hughes said. “Hit 14 and started making a few more. At that point, I just convinced myself to keep the pedal down and keep making birdies.”

The first three birdie putts in the streak were from 12 to 15 feet while the last was a 31-footer to complete a 29 for nine holes. He followed with a six-footer to birdie the second and another to save par at the par-3 fifth before his final birdie run.

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- McIlroy stays patient -

McIlroy reached the green in two at the par-5 13th and sank an 11-foot eagle putt and birdied 14 and 15 before missing the green and a 16-foot par putt at the par-3 16th.

“I played well from the start,” McIlroy said. “The round got going with the eagle on 13.”

McIlroy birdied four of his last holes as well, holing a 15-foot putt at the par-4 fourth and sinking a four-footer at the par-5 sixth after finding a greenside bunker before closing with a six-foot birdie putt at nine.

McIlroy said he was not concerned about having a hot start despite the low scores typical at River Highlands.

“You get a little antsy and go a little quick if you start thinking that way. I have to remember it’s a 72-hole golf tournament,” McIlroy said. “As much as it’s low scores, you have to keep telling yourself to be patient.”

McIlroy playing partner Phil Mickelson, a 50-year-old US left-hander, was in a pack sharing third on 64.

“It was a really good round for me,” Mickelson said. “I hit a lot of good shots and had some fun too.”

Mickelson, a six-time US Open runner-up, was ensured a chance to again play for a career Grand Slam by the US Golf Association on Thursday when it announced exemptions for this year’s US Open, delayed to September by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Travelers marks the third event since the tour returned earlier this month from a three-month hiatus due to the deadly virus.

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AFP

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