Johnson grabs early Deere lead with 63


Zach Johnson's love affair with the John Deere Classic is alive and well.

A winner at TPC Deere Run in 2012 and a runner-up last year, Johnson fired an 8-under 63 in the opening round as he looks to crack the top five in Silvis, Ill., for the fifth time in the last six years.

Johnson began quickly after starting on No. 10, with birdies on four of his first five holes. He briefly sparked a "59 watch" after playing his first 11 holes in 8 under on the par-71 layout, but he closed with seven straight pars.

"Today was solid," Johnson told after the round. "Obviously getting off to a good start, a close wedge on the 10th (hole) and then a nice putt on the 12th really kind of freed me up."

Johnson has now carded 21 straight rounds in the 60s at TPC Deere Run and has run his cumulative total at this event to 92 under since 2009. He holds a share of the lead with Rory Sabbatini and Brian Harman, who matched Johnson's 63 in the first round.

As an Iowa native and resident of nearby Cedar Rapids, Johnson is among the fan favorites at this event and makes no qualms about his desire to perform each year in front of the Midwestern crowds.

"This is the kind of golf course I really enjoy and really respect," Johnson said. "This is obviously a highlight of my schedule every year, for me and my family."

With his regular caddie Damon Green playing in the U.S. Senior Open this week at Oak Tree National, Johnson was forced to make a switch and this week has Lance Bennett, who typically caddies for Matt Kuchar, on the bag. Through one round, the new - albeit temporary - partnership seems to be paying off.

"We've been good friends for many years. Obviously Kuch and I are very good friends as well," Johnson said. "It was just one of those things that kind of fit (since) Kuch has three weeks off."