By Rick Brown, John Deere Classic Correspondent
Steve Wheatcroft had mastered the screwball.
That’s fine if you’re a pitcher, not so good if you’re trying to make your livelihood on the PGA Tour.
“I’d hit one or two screwballs a round that cost me a bogey or double bogey,” Wheatcroft said. “It’s really, really hurt me.”
The screwballs stayed away Thursday, when the 40-year-old shot a 9-under-par 62 to move to the top of the leaderboard at the John Deere Classic.
That was the lowest score Wheatcroft has ever posted in a PGA Tour event, covering 469 rounds. His previous low had been a pair of 64s, the most recent coming at the 2016 RBC Canadian Open.
Wheatcroft finished with a flair, making birdie on his final six holes for a back-nine 29.
“I tried to keep the round going,” Wheatcroft said. “I asked if we could go to the first tee and start round two.”
Wheatcroft will have to wait until 12:20 p.m. Friday to see if his hot streak is stuck on automatic, and free of screwballs. He’ll start the second round with a one-shot lead over Michael Kim, who made a pair of 20-footers and a 40-footer in his round of 63.
There’s a foursome locked at 64 - Johnson Wagner, Nick Taylor, Andres Romero and Joel Dahmen.
Wagner tied for seventh at the John Deere Classic in 2014 and tied for fifth in both 2015 and 2016. Taylor has missed the cut in his previous three Deere appearances, with a 72.8 stroke average. Dahmen matched Wheatcroft with a back-nine 29.
The second round will not include defending champion Bryson DeChambeau. He withdrew on the 16th hole with discomfort in his right shoulder. DeChambeau made a stop in the fitness trailer after leaving the course and came out with a wrap on that shoulder.
“I feel like I can still swing and hit a shot. I just don’t feel like it would be productive to do so,” DeChambeau said.
He first felt some discomfort in the shoulder on the second hole, when he hit a shot out of the rough. He left the course to see a doctor and still hopes he can recover in time to play in next week’s British Open.
“I’m not going to not make the trip,” DeChambeau said.
DeChambeau was disappointed that the defense of his first career PGA Tour victory was cut short.
“Life just throws you curveballs, and you’ve got to work with them,” DeChambeau said. “It’s not fun.”
This is Wheatcroft’s seventh Deere appearance. He tied for eighth in 2015 after a final-round 65, his lowest career round at TPC Deere Run until Thursday. Wheatcroft had it rolling on the greens at the end of his round. He made birdie putts of 27 feet on No. 16, 15 feet on No. 17 and 13 feet on No. 18. He entered play this week with a World Golf Ranking of 927. He’s 206th on the PGA Tour money list and 209th in the FedEx Cup standings.
“I’m just focused on playing and making birdies,” Wheatcroft said. “I’m so far behind the eight ball at this point I just want to keep playing golf, keep making birdies. We’ll try to throw three more 62s at them, and hopefully that’s good enough.”
Troubles off the tee has made 2018 a tough season for Wheatcroft so far. Coming in the Deere, he missed seven consecutive cuts at one point and has made it to the weekend just six times in 15 events.
But driver was one of the best clubs in his bag Thursday.
“Luckily the Callaway guys came out and worked with me a little bit (Wednesday),” said Wheatcroft, whose best finish this season is a tie for 28th. “We put a new driver head on. It felt great on the range. I hadn’t played one hole of golf with it. I just trusted it (Thursday).”
Broc Everett, the reigning NCAA champion from Augusta University and West Des Moines, Iowa, shot a bogey-free 4-under-par 67 in his first career round on the PGA Tour. He started on No. 10 and birdied his first hole.
“One of the caddies came up to me and said, “Welcome to the PGA Tour,” Everett said. I was like, “Yeah, it’s pretty sweet. It was a good start.”
Everett also had an eagle on his card, holing a bunker shot on the par-5 2nd hole.
“I knew if I just landed it on that tier it would roll down to the pin,” Everett said. “Fortunately it went in the hole, which was a little bonus.”
Former Illinois player Nick Hardy, playing on a sponsor’s exemption like Everett is, put himself in good position to make the cut for a second straight year after a bogey-free 66. Hardy tied for 55th in 2017.
“The putter and driver were good to me,” Hardy said. “I hit some great tee shots and made some really good putts. In order to win this tournament, you have to keep doing that.”