DeLaet, Merritt put themselves in hunt at Travelers
CROMWELL — They’ve got very different track records at TPC River Highlands, but they had similar first rounds Thursday at the Travelers Championship. Graham DeLaet and Troy Merritt are tied for fourth after 5-under 65s to start their tournament.
A late-round bogey was the only blemish on either of their scorecards, leaving them tied for fourth, two shots off Jordan Spieth’s lead. It’s a perch DeLaet knows pretty well here. It’s not where Merritt has hung out lately.
“I feel a lot better than most of the rounds I put together this year,” Merritt said, who made six birdies before pulling his drive into the water on 15.
He’d missed four cuts in a row, including last week at the U.S. Open after back-to-back 74s and the week before at the St. Jude Classic.
“I haven’t played well this year, and it’s a result of not hitting fairways,” Merritt said.
Part of that is adapting to a new driver. He’s gone back, he said, to hitting a fade off the tee.
The Tour’s website had him hitting 58 percent of fairways this year, ranked 136th, when in past years he’d been over 60 percent, around 80th.
“That doesn’t seem that big,” he said, “but over the course of the year, that’s a lot of missed fairways.”
Merritt made a 12-foot putt to save par on 17 after his approach shot found the rough. Three of his birdie putts were longer.
This is the sixth visit to Cromwell for Merritt, 31. The Iowa native has missed the cut five times and tied for 67th when he made it in 2014.
DeLaet has had more success here after a slow start, finishing third here in 2013 and fourth two years later.
“I love this golf course,” said DeLaet, 35, who with Merritt was one shot ahead of a 13-way tie for sixth and one more ahead of 18 men at 3-under. “It’s one of those things, just fits your eye.”
Starting on the back nine, he hit his second shot to a foot on 10 to start with a birdie, then made a 15-foot putt on 11 for another.
“I felt like I had birdie chances kind of all the way through the back nine,” his first nine holes, DeLaet said. “I made seven pars in a row, and I played nicely on the front nine.”
DeLaet chipped in from 33 feet on 5 for birdie, then eagled 6, which he said was a little bit fortunate. His tee shot was well right and found a sprinkler head. He took relief from that, but his drop landed on a cart path.
“(I) took relief from the cart path and was able to get a little bit better angle,” said DeLaet, still seeking his first PGA Tour win. “I hit a high draw hybrid, thought I was short of the green but ended up being 8 feet (away). That was a nice break I got, because I thought I would’ve had to lay up.”
Last year, with the PGA Tour rearranged because of the Olympics, DeLaet missed this tournament for the first time since 2009. He said he wanted to make sure he was at the opening ceremony in Rio, where he finished 20th representing Canada.
His TPC return was pretty solid, even if he put his approach shot past the green on his last hole.
“It’s a little disappointing ending the day with a bogey, especially when you have a nice clean card and are playing well,” DeLaet said, but “5-under-par every day on the PGA Tour, you’ll be in good shape. I’m pretty happy with that, still.”
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