SILVIS, Ill. — It took years for Zach Johnson to feel comfortable at his hometown tournament.
These days, Johnson is more relaxed than anyone in the field — and that’s a major reason why he’s in early position to repeat as the champion of the John Deere Classic.
Johnson shot a 7-under 64 and is tied with Camilo Villegas for the lead after Thursday’s opening round of the John Deere Classic.
It was the 17th straight round in the 60s at TPC Deere Run for Johnson, who grew up roughly 100 miles away in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Matt Bettencourt made the field as a late alternate and shot a 6-under 65. He’s tied for second with Daniel Summerhays and Brendon de Jonge.
Boo Weekley is among a host of players at 5-under 66, while three-time tournament champion Steve Stricker is at 4-under 67 heading into Friday’s second round.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year. Yeah, I just kind of felt like you’re just leading into the next round here,” Johnson said. “I’ve just gotten so used to just everything about this tournament.”
It wasn’t always that way for Johnson.
Johnson finished 69th here five years ago after shooting 75 and 71 in the final two rounds — but he hasn’t touched 70 since.
Johnson, who was second in 2009 and third in 2011 before winning last year, topped his final-round 65 of 2012 by one stroke Thursday. He avoided bogeys while picking up birdies on five par-4s.
“It just feels so natural now,” Johnson said. ‘It just feels very, very comfortable, much like my golf game — though I don’t want to get overly content with the fact that I’m overly comfortable. So I’ve still got to go to work.”
Villegas was also comfortable on a course that proved player-friendly in the morning session. He converted a pair of par-3 birdie putts to highlight a strong day on the greens.
“Made some great putts and just kept out of trouble. The golf course is a little receptive, and you could be aggressive,” Villegas said. “I was very pleased with the way I handled myself out there.”
SEVEN TIED FOR LEAD: In Omaha, Neb., Kenny Perry shot a 3-under 67 on Thursday and is tied for the lead at the U.S. Senior Open, putting together a solid start in his bid for a second straight win in a senior major.
Perry, who won the Senior Players Championship two weeks ago at Fox Chapel, Pa., made five birdies against two bogeys at Omaha Country Club.
He has plenty of company atop a crowded leaderboard.
Michael Allen and Jay Don Blake also shot a 67 in the morning, and Gary Hallberg, Mark O’Meara, Tom Lehman and Fred Funk posted the same score in the afternoon.
There had never been as many as seven co-leaders after the first round at a U.S. Senior Open. The previous record was five in 1997.
Lehman had the shot of the day, chipping in from 45 feet for birdie on the 18th hole.
Stanford, Matthew lead Park by TWO: In Waterloo, Ontario, Angela Stanford and Catriona Matthew shot eight-under 63s to share the first-round lead at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic on Thursday, two strokes ahead of top-ranked Inbee Park.
Park is trying to become the first golfer to win four straight LPGA Tour events since Lorena Ochoa in 2008.
Park was joined by American Irene Cho, Spain’s Belen Mozo and South Korea’s Hee Young Park and Meena Lee at 65. American Ryann O’Toole and South Koreans Jenny Shin, Amy Yang and Ji Young Oh were three shots off the lead at 66.
Defending champion Brittany Lang opened with a 69.
Stanford closed her late-evening round with three straight birdies to join Matthew atop the leaderboard under mostly sunny skies at Grey Silo Golf Course
“Today I hit it really good,” Stanford said. “So it was just one of those days that as a golfer you just love.”
Players took advantage of soft conditions early in the day on the 6,330-yard course. Aggressive approach shots were rewarded before the greens started to dry up in the afternoon.
“We were pretty much able to attack the pins this morning,” Park said. “The next three days might be a little bit different if we don’t get any more rain, might play a little harder.”
Warm temperatures and sunny skies are in the forecast through the final round of the $1.3-million tournament on Sunday.
The 24-year-old Park oozed confidence as she strolled down the fairways, apparently in complete control of her game on the way to her best first-round score of the season.
“Golf is a sport where you could miss the cut this week and you could win next week,” Park said. “There’s a lot of imbalance in this game and to keep this kind of level going for four weeks, five weeks, six in a row is a very tough thing to do. We really have to be strong mentally, you have to be physically strong.”
Nancy Lopez holds the tour record with five consecutive victories in 1978, a mark tied by Annika Sorenstam over the 2004-05 seasons. Park, who enters the tournament as the tour leader in seven statistical categories, has already won six times this season.
She’s dominating the tour the way players like Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa did over the last decade.
“At the time when I was watching them, I thought they were so good, that I would never be in that kind of position, never be able to win like four, five tournaments in a row,” Park said. “I thought that was toughest thing to do and I’m getting really close to that.
“I’m not as good as them yet, but I’m still learning now and just starting.”
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