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Crowds help energize Spieth in Travelers’ debut; Zaback gets off to slow start

The weather was great Thursday for the first round of the Travelers’ Championship at the TPC River Highlands here in Cromwell. The crowds were strong. And Jordan Spieth was on a roll. Spieth had eight birdies to shoot a 7-under-par 63 to take the lead after the first round of the Travelers’ Championship.

Spieth has a one stroke lead over Johnson Wagner and Brett Segmaier, who each had a 6-under-par 64. Segmaier sank seven birdies in a stretch of nine holes.

Rory McIlroy, Jim Furyk and Patrick Read are four shots back with 67 while defending champion Russell Knox shot an opening round 69. Farmington native Zach Zaback, who won a qualifier on Monday to earn a spot in the tournament, struggled with a six-over-par 76 in his PGA Tour debut.

Spieth began the tournament with a pair of birdies on the first two holes and kept it going with five birdies on the first eight holes.

Spieth was impressed with the crowds in Cromwell. “It was spectacular. I thought when we walked to the first tee yesterday and today, that was one of the best receptions I’ve ever had. It was really cool. And they stayed with us the whole round,” he said.

The fans helped the atmosphere on the course. “It was unreal. Normally that kind of stuff wouldn’t take me back,” said Spieth, who has nine career wins on the PGA Tour including victories at the U.S. Open and The Masters. “But it was above and beyond. I thought that was really, really special.

“People really appreciate the guys coming and playing this event. We really appreciate that kind of support. It was nice to kind of — when I could see the putt about to go in, I knew there was going to be a big roar, and it just makes it — it gains a little bit more momentum, makes you feel pretty good. Kind of helps the shots you’re playing throughout the round,” Spieth said.

McIlroy wanted to do better in his debut here at TPC River Highlands. “I sort of come off the golf course a little disappointed with 67 because I gave myself so many chances,” he said. “I think I hit five or six putts out there that hit the hole and didn’t go in. It is just about staying patient. But I know the game’s there. Feeling good. My tee-to-green game is right where it needs to be. Just a matter of converting the chances I’m giving myself.”

Zach Zaback

Zaback didn’t have the best day on the course but he was playing in a professional tournament on his home course. His parents have a home on the 14th hole.

“Today was really fun,” he said. “Didn’t get off to the best start on the front nine. Probably nerves got the best of me maybe on the greens, but I still had a blast out there. I had a pretty good, solid back nine. Tons of support, people cheering me on. So it was just an awesome day, regardless of my score.”

Zaback had five bogies and a double bogey in the first 10 holes. He did finish with two birdies, including a 42-yard putt on 17 to get a birdie. “I actually called it to my caddie. I was like, let’s give these people a show. Let’s chip this in. But no, that was nice to finally get a birdie there. Hit my spot and rolled in perfectly,” he said.

His parents were following Zaback on the course along with his brother, home from London.

“It was pretty surreal out there,” he admitted. “I was like, wow, I’m actually playing in the Travelers. But yeah, to see the big names, to see some of the big crowds. I know when we were on 16th tee, you could see there was a big crowd on 1. And I was like, that has to be Jordan Spieth. It’s pretty awesome to be playing in the same tournament.”

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years.

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