Ricky Barnes is out of wilderness, J.T. Poston keeps up torrid pace and a Monday qualifier is making some noise
Ricky Barnes plays his shot from the second tee during the first round of the John Deere Classic.
Ricky Barnes hasn’t played a full schedule on the PGA Tour since the 2017-18 season, and, thus, is struggling to build any kind of momentum in his golf game. Which explains why he had posted three rounds in the 60s this season and has missed the cut in five of the six events in which he has gained entry to the field.
Make it four rounds after an opening five-under 66 Thursday at the John Deere Classic, which is his lowest round this year and his lowest score to begin a tournament since the 2020 Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship. It’s no stretch to say that his name is a surprise entry on the leaderboard at TPC Deere Run.
“Yeah, just nice to get into some tournaments with everything going on with golf,” said Barnes, 41, alluding to the convulsions in the game due to the upstart LIV Golf Series. “Started practicing a little bit more because I know I'm getting into probably next three tournaments or next three out of four.”
Barnes is playing out of the veteran member category after losing his card in 2018, and he hasn’t competed in more than 13 events since. The former U.S. Amateur champion put together a round of seven birdies against two bogeys after hitting 10 fairways and 14 greens in regulation, areas that have been weaknesses in previous starts.
“I feel like I drive the ball pretty well I can score,” he said. “So, I just got to go swing and trust like I did today. That was the main thing.”
Barnes has been busying himself working in real estate on the side. Or maybe, because of the lack of starts, the golf is now the side thing. But he is looking forward to playing a bit more in events opposite the upcoming Scottish Open and Open Championship abroad. That’s what he meant about putting in some extra time on the range.
“I just haven't had the rhythm,” said Barnes, who has been on the tour since 2009 but has yet to win. “Started to do some other ventures in life and for work, so I have been put a little bit of time in that as well. But like I said, knowing I had the summer, some events coming up and saw the schedule clear up and some other tournaments going on, I was practicing a little bit more and trying to get my body healthy. It's good to be back here.”
Here are a few other takeaways from the opening round in Silvis, Ill.
J.T. Poston of the United States plays his shot from the second tee during the first round of the John Deere Classic.
Momentum Part 2
Speaking of finding a rhythm, J.T. Poston is hot.
On the heels of a final-round 64 that lifted him into a tie for second at the Travelers Championship, Poston fired an opening nine-under 62 to take the early lead. Poston didn’t have a bogey in converting seven birdies and an eagle at the par-5 second hole. It’s the second week in a row he has posted 62 on Thursday.
“I think it's starting to kind of come together and see the results and see the shots and kind of building that confidence back into my ball striking,” said Poston, 29, who credits work with his swing coach, John McNeely, for his recent surge the last few months.
Poston has three top-10 finishes this season, each a result of a fast finish. He was T-3 at the RBC Heritage with a closing 64, and his T-9 at the Wells Fargo Championship came via a final-round 67. He’s made the most of his good weeks, having made the cut just nine times in 23 starts.
Ranked 132 in strokes gained/approach the green this season, Poston hit 16 greens in regulation on Thursday, the best illustration of his play. And he knows it. “Hit my irons really well and hitting a lot of fairways, so I'm able to kind of attack some of the pins,” he said. Really just hitting a lot of greens, which is something I haven't done first part of the year. It's obviously been the secret I guess, so hopefully keep it going.”
Chris Naegel plays his shot from the 13th tee during the first round of the John Deere Classic.
Speaking of a lack of starts
If Barnes is hurting for action, consider Chris Naegel, who made the cut in the U.S. Open, eventually tying for 56th, and on Thursday opened with a five-under 66 at TPC Deere Run. Not bad, huh. Actually, fairly incredible considering that Naegel has no status on any tour and is playing in just his second tournament of the year. Counting an abbreviated list of Korn Ferry Tour events, Naegel has played in three tournaments combined on the KFT and PGA Tour.
The 39-year-old veteran from Missouri got into the John Deere field as one of four Monday qualifiers by shooting a six-under 66 and started off his round on Thursday with an eagle at the par-5 10th hole on the way to an outward 30. Though he bogeyed the ninth, his final hole of the day, Naegel couldn’t have been more pleased by the effort in just his sixth tour start. But he also appeared to take it in stride.
“Yeah, I mean, this is a bonus, so I got nothing to lose. Just go out and have fun and try to make birdies,” Naegel said. “You're playing golf. I don't know if there is much to be down about. That's kind of the way I look at it, I guess. Yeah, just go out and have fun. It's just golf.”
Sahith Theegala reacts to his shot from the second tee during the first round of the John Deere Classic.
Bunker no problem ... this time
It was more than a little odd to see that among the highlights of the opening round of the John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour website was the birdie that Sahith Theegala made on the par-4 13th hole. The eight-foot birdie putt was set up by a swell shot out of a fairway bunker.
Remember that it was a bunker that got Theegala in trouble on Sunday when he led the Travelers Championship with one hole to play. The tour rookie needed two to escape a fairway bunker at 18 and ended up making a double bogey to pave the way for Xander Schauffele’s second win of the season.
One had to wonder if there might be a hangover for the former Pepperdine All-American after the disappointment, and it appears that is the case. Theegala, the highest-ranked player in the FedEx Cup standings at TPC Deere Run, struggled to an opening three-over 74.