SILVIS, Ill. – The latest member of golf’s most exclusive club surely rates as the most unlikely.
Al Geiberger was the first on the PGA Tour to a shoot a 59, back in 1977. Chip Beck did it in 1991, and David Duval matched them in 1999.
And now comes … Paul Goydos?
Believe it. The 46-year-old journeyman with only two PGA victories shot a 12-under 59 in a magical opening round Thursday at the John Deere Classic.
“Wow,” Goydos said. “Fifty-nine is a pretty iconic number. I just keep going wow.”
But get this: As well as he played – 12 birdies, no bogeys, and just 22 putts – he led by only one stroke.
While Goydos was soaking in the adulation of a rare feat and giving interview after interview, defending champion Steve Stricker was shooting a 60. That made for the two lowest scores in a single round at a PGA event.
And Stricker just missed tying Goydos on the last hole.
“You’re 12 back before you even step on the first tee. That’s tough to swallow,” said Stricker, who didn’t start until Goydos finished. “That’s why you’ve got to get into a little different thought process and get in your own little world and chip away.”
With the TPC Deere Run course softened by three days of intermittent rain, a lot of golfers were expected to go low. But a 59 and a 60 on the same day, two scores that have been recorded at the same time only once over an entire year?
“The course is ripe for scoring,” Stricker said.
Indeed, red numbers overwhelmed the leader board.
Michael Letzig, Matt Jones, Aaron Baddeley and James Nitties all finished at 7-under 64. Jay Williamson, Daniel Chopra, Scott McCarron and Charley Hoffman had 65s.
Those scores paled, though, beside the birdie runs strung together by Goydos and Stricker.
Goydos’ sensational round was so shocking because he has played so poorly this year.
He has missed almost as many cuts as he has made. He hasn’t had a top-40 finish since early May. He led the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February by a stroke with five holes to play, only to tumble out of contention with an embarrassing quadruple-bogey 9 on No. 14.
“I definitely was scuttling on the bottom of the ocean here the last three or four months,” Goydos said.
His tee shots found the middle of the fairway. His approaches stuck on the green. And, most importantly, his putts found the middle of the cup over and over again.
Stricker’s almost did, too.
His second shot on the par-4 18th – an 8-iron from 159 yards – bounced on the green and appeared to be heading for the cup. But it curled around at the last second, leaving him an easy 2-footer for the 11th birdie in his bogey-free round.
“It looked good working its way right down to the hole,” Stricker said. “It was a little short was the way it looked when I got up there, but it looked good for a while.”
Stricker kept alive his hopes of catching Goydos by salvaging par on No. 14 after hitting into a bunker left of the green. After another par on 15, he closed with three straight birdies.
Goydos, who hasn’t won on the tour since 2007, got a bit of help in dominating the soggy course. The wet conditions allowed for preferred lies, permitting golfers to lift, clean and place their ball on the fairway.
Duval’s 59 came in a memorable final round that helped him win the 1999 Bob Hope Classic.
Geiberger shot the first 59 in the second round of the 1977 Memphis Classic at Colonial Country Club. Beck shot his 59 in the third round of the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational at Sunrise Golf Course.
Duval finished with a 67 Thursday while Goydos and everyone else talked about his amazing round. When several reporters greeted Duval after he signed his card, he knew what number they wanted to discuss.
“The score is kind of the golden egg,” he said of Goydos’ round. “You have to hit shots, you have to hit putts. Regardless of where it’s done or who does it, it’s amazing.”
Goydos birdied every hole on the back nine except for No. 15, where he holed a 6-foot par putt to keep a sub-60 in sight. He finished with three birdies, the last one from 7 feet to top off his memorable day.
“Standing over that last putt, I was probably as nervous as I’ve ever been over a putt in my life,” he said. “The putt would have gone in a thimble. Don’t know why. That’s just the way it went today.”
Goydos raised his putter to a roar from the crowd when his 59th shot fell into the cup and he high-fived his way to the clubhouse.
It was quite a reception for a guy who came in at No. 137 in the world rankings. He had missed the last two cuts and had not broken par in his last six rounds.
“I thought my game was getting better,” Goydos said. “Again, the quantum leap from where I thought it was getting better to where it went today, I can’t explain. But it was trending in the right direction.”
Goydos set himself up for a good round by playing the front nine at 4 under.
“And then the craziness just blurted out of me,” he said.
Goydos sank a 6-foot putt on No. 10 to go 5-under. He looked to be in trouble on the par-4 11th when his approach didn’t hit high enough on the green. The ball rolled back, leaving him with a 39-foot putt for birdie.
No problem. Goydos knocked it right into the hole.
“I made a bomb – I mean dead center,” he said.
With a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-4 13th, Goydos dropped to 8 under. He hit to within 6 feet on the par-4 14th and sank the putt to leave him 9 under.
Goydos finished with a flourish. He putted from the fringe to sink a 14-footer for birdie on the par-3 16th, dropped in an 11-footer on the par-5 17th, and knocked a 7-iron from 145 yards to within 7 feet on 18.
The crowd at 18 had grown steadily as Goydos’ score kept dropping and the news spread through the gallery. Even fellow players Notah Begay and J.J. Henry dropped by to watch his run at history.
The final putt was like most of the others Goydos rolled in with his cross-handed grip, right in the middle of the cup.
“I think that is a goal in your career, to break 60,” he said. “When I look back and I’m not playing anymore … I’ve got 10 holes-in-one. I’ve got three double-eagles. Fifty-nine is one of those things I’m going to look at and say, ‘That’s pretty cool.”’