By RICK BROWN
John Deere Classic Correspondent
SILVIS, Ill. – TPC Deere Run and the John Deere Classic hold a special place in Patrick Rodgers’ heart. He got a sponsor’s exemption here twice when he was a collegian at Stanford, and two more as a professional.
“This is an event that has been incredibly gracious to me over the years,” Rodgers said after shooting a 7-under-par 65 Thursday in the first round of the John Deere Classic. “Playing here twice as an amateur, and being in contention (in 2013), will be something I remember as long as I play.”
The 24-year-old Rodgers held the third-round lead for a spell in 2013, and finished in a tie for 15th. But he has hadn’t had similar success on his last two trips here as a professional. He’s missed the cut the past two summers.
“Honestly, I haven’t had the professional success here that I wanted to,” Rodgers said. “I treat this like a hometown event.”
Rodgers, a Hoosier State native, coming off a tie for third at the Travelers Championship last week, played like a guy in his comfort zone Thursday despite a 31/2-hour rain delay. He birdied the 18th hole and was joined at 65 by Zach Johnson and Ryan Moore.
The first round won’t be completed until Friday, weather permitting. But a few players were making Thursday afternoon noise. Andrew Loupe was 8 under par through 14 holes when play was suspended for the day. Tom Gillis was 6 under through 16 holes.
Loupe has missed his last seven cuts on the PGA Tour. That includes last week, when he tied for the first-round lead at the Travelers Championship with a 64 but missed the cut after a second-round 76. Gillis lost a playoff to Jordan Spieth for last year’s Deere title.
It was the 29th consecutive round in the 60s at TPC Deere Run for Johnson, the Iowa native.
“I don’t know what it is, but I love the golf course,” Johnson said. “I love the putting surfaces. I know the moment I feel like I can take this place down is the moment it can bite me, so I’ve got to stay focused and keep the pedal down.”
Johnson has 12 PGA Tour wins, including two major championships, during his career. He’s also had some close calls at the John Deere Classic. He has finished third or better five years in a row.
A 13th victory would put a lock on Johnson’s fifth Ryder Cup team, and move him a step closer to the World Golf Hall of Fame. But that is not his focus this week.
“The next win is always the best win, the way I see it,” Johnson said. “I’m hoping there is a next one, ideally this week.”
It was also Johnson’s 13th bogey-free round at the John Deere Classic, a tournament record, and it didn’t come easy down the stretch. Starting his round on No. 10, he hit his first 16 greens in regulation. He missed the fairway off the tee on No. 8, then his second shot went over the green. From there, his downhill chip stopped five feet above the hole. He made the right-to-left breaker for par.
And on No. 9, Johnson hooked his second shot and missed the green the left. But he got up-and-down again.
“Other than that tee shot (on No. 8) and probably that second shot (on No. 9), it was a pretty clean scorecard all in all,” Johnson said.
Moore also closed his round on No. 9. And he, too, had a wild adventure. He hit a poor drive, and faced a 28-footer for par. He made it.
“I didn’t play the hole well by any means,” Moore said. “I didn’t hit any good shots. But you know, a good putt can save just about anything, and that’s what happened.”
Moore played the John Deere Classic in 2006, 2008 and 2009, then took a break for two years. He’s played very well since his homecoming. He had finished between eighth and 24th on his last four visits to TPC Deere Run since 2012.
“It’s one I’ve really grown to like over the years,” Moore said. “I played it early in my career, and I took a few years off in the middle, and when I came back and started playing again I just appreciated it more for some reason or another. Maybe I’ve learned over the years the type of golf courses that are good for me and that set up well for me. And this is definitely one of them.”
Rodgers would cherish leaving town with a Deere Trophy. It would be his own version of home cooking.
“It’s an event I hold dear, and I’m excited to get off to a good start,” Rodgers said. “But 6 under is not going to win this golf tournament, so I know I’m going to have to make a lot more birdies.”