June 26, 2020 / 4:03 AM / 10 days ago

Golf: Hughes goes on birdie blitz to grab lead at Travelers

(Reuters) - Canadian Mackenzie Hughes fired an error free 10-under 60 to take the first-round lead at the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Connecticut, on Thursday, putting himself three shots clear of three players including world number one Rory McIlroy.

Jun 25, 2020; Cromwell, Connecticut, USA; Mackenzie Hughes reacts during the first round of the Travelers Championship golf tournament at TPC River Highlands. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Playing the back nine first at the TPC River Highlands, Hughes was in blistering form as he strung together a run of five straight birdies from the 14th on his outward nine and picked up four more after the turn.

He had a long look at a magical 59 but left a 41-foot birdie putt short at his last.

“I’ve shot 61 twice in competition, once at Sea Island and once at a mini-Tour event,” Hughes told reporters. “Both times there was an outside chance the last few holes to shoot 59.

“Kind of similar deal to today where I kind of needed to birdie the last few holes.”

Also a back nine starter, McIlroy got off to a flying start by rolling in an 11-foot putt for an eagle on the par five 13th and then followed up with birdies at 14 and 15 to quickly get to four-under.

The Northern Irishman’s only miscue was a bogey at 16 but he was error free the rest of the way, piling on four more birdies after the turn for a seven-under 63.

American Xander Schauffele and Norway’s Viktor Hovland, who were part of the afternoon wave, finished tied with McIlroy after both carded seven-under 63s.

Lurking one shot further back is a pack led by Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson, who recently celebrated his 50th birthday, with both also enjoying error free starts.

Joining the two major winners at six-under are Americans Tyler Duncan and Michael Thompson plus South Korea’s Noh Seung-yul and South African Louis Oosthuizen.

Golfers appeared to be taking heed and paying closer attention to COVID-19 safety protocols after PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan issued a stern warning on Wednesday following the withdrawal of several players.

Major champions Brooks Koepka and Graeme McDowell pulled out of the event after their caddies tested positive for COVID-19 while Cameron Champ withdrew on Tuesday after testing positive.

Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto and Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Ken Ferris

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