Tanaka Quigley Set Pace in Hartford
'The greens are good and they had some pretty tough pin placements,' said Quigley, who like Tanaka is seeking his first win on the PGA Tour.
Scott Verplank, who fired a tournament-record-tying 61 in last year's final round en route to a tie for 17th, opened with a 65 on Thursday for a share of third place with Tim Herron, Briny Baird, Kaname Yokoo, Jonathan Kaye and Skip Kendall.
'I played very well actually,' said Verplank, who hit 12 of 14 fairways, 15 of 18 greens in regulation and putted 27 times Thursday. 'I finally started rolling a few putts in. I haven't been doing much of that lately and for some reason I got a little better feel today and made a few.'
Peter Lonard, 34, a three-time winner on his home circuit in Australia, is competing in his first season on the PGA Tour after tying for 10th at the 2001 Qualifying Tournament. He has yet to miss a cut in 14 events played and was well on his way to making it 15 with a bogey-free 66 in first-round action.
Alongside Lonard at 4-under par were Kirk Triplett, Steve Pate, Glen Hnatiuk, Mathew Goggin and Steve Allan.
Notah Begay III, hampered by a bad back since winning in Hartford two years ago, shot a three-under 67, just his second sub-70 round in a year in which he's missed all 11 cuts.
Begay was in 15th place with Scott Hoch, Corey Pavin, Jim Carter, Deane Pappas, Brandt Jobe and Peter Jacobsen, who captured the 1984 Greater Hartford Open, the first held at River Highlands.
Paul Azinger, the winner here in 1987 and '89, finished four shots off the pace with 10 players, among them Davis Love III, Mark Calcavecchia and Joe Durant.
Although a tournament will often have problems drawing a quality field the week following a major championship, five of the top-10 players in the world decided to make the short trip from Long Island's Bethpage State Park, site of the last week's U.S. Open, to the suburbs outside Connecticut's capital.
Phil Mickelson, the second-ranked golfer in the world and the 2001 GHO champion, turned in a 1-under 69 as he began his quest to become the first player to successfully defend this title. Also with 69s were No. 3 Ernie Els and No. 4 Sergio Garcia, while Vijay Singh, the world's eighth-ranked player, carded an even-par 70.
Seventh-ranked David Duval continued his season-long struggle on Thursday. The man who will defend his British Open title a month from now made eight bogeys in a three-over 73. Should Duval fail to qualify for the weekend after Friday's round, it would mark his fourth missed cut in his last five starts.
Quigley, 32, the nephew of current Senior Tour star Dana Quigley, was caddying for his uncle when he set the tournament record of 61 at Wethersfield Country Club in 1982. While the younger Quigley didn't enter record territory on Thursday, his 64 was his best round of the 2002 campaign.
After starting strong with four birdies over his first six holes, Quigley rolled in a 20-foot birdie at the 11th. He moved atop the leaderboard with a two-putt birdie at the par-5 13th.
Quigley made bogey out of a bunker at the 16th but returned to 6-under courtesy of an 18-foot birdie putt at 17.
'I think I've tried too hard this year. I've come out feeling like I should be able to take it to the next level,' said Quigley, who registered his best showing on the PGA Tour when he finished second at last year's Greater Greensboro Classic. 'As a result, I think I've tried too hard, and certainly the last few months it's been pretty frustrating.'
Quigley missed seven cuts and was disqualified once, at Bay Hill, in his first 11 starts of 2002. Although he missed only one cut over his next six events, Quigley's highest finish in that span was a tie for 30th in Greensboro.
Tanaka, who has 15 victories worldwide, including 10 on the Japan Golf Tour, hit all 14 fairways and took just 25 putts in the first round.
'I didn't have too many big mistakes, and my putts and my shots were very good,' the 31-year-old Tanaka said through an interpreter.
The purse for the event was increased by a healthy $900,000 from last year to $4 million. The winner will take home $720,000.
Full Field Scores from the Canon Greater Hartford Open
PGA Tour Statistics
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.
Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.
Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.
“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”
Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.
“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.
This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."