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Hoffman fires 61 to grab Travelers lead; Mahan 1 back

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After nearly taking home the trophy from TPC River Highlands a year ago, Charley Hoffman has put his name back to the top of the leaderboard in Hartford. Here's the skinny heading into the second round of the Travelers Championship, where Hoffman leads over a pair of former Travelers champions:

Leaderboard: Charley Hoffman (-9), Hunter Mahan (-8), Bubba Watson (-7), Webb Simpson (-5), John Merrick (-5), Rod Pampling (-5), Camilo Villegas (-5), Graham DeLaet (-5), Zach Johnson (-5)

What it means: A week after grueling Merion Golf Club made par a great score for players in the U.S. Open, birdie was the name of the game Thursday in Connecticut. Nine different players were able to card rounds of 65 or better, though none shot lower than Hoffman, whose 9-under 61 was spurred by a back-nine 28 that included two eagles.

Round of the day: A two-time winner on the PGA Tour, Hoffman began inauspiciously Thursday, starting his round with five straight pars. Birdies at holes 6 and 7 led to a torrid six-hole stretch, though, as Hoffman played Nos. 10-15 in 6 under thanks to eagles at both the par-4 10th and par-5 13th holes. A closing birdie on the home hole gave Hoffman a 61, tying his career-best round and falling just one stroke shy of the best number shot this year on the PGA Tour.

Best of the rest: Playing in the morning wave, Mahan showed no effects of a potential Merion hangover, turning in a bogey-free 62 just four days after finishing T-4 at the U.S. Open. A winner here in 2007, Mahan is currently the all-time career earnings winner at Travelers and showed why Thursday, carding five birdies during an eight hole-stretch from Nos. 10-17 to begin his round.

Biggest disappointment: Along with Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter was another top-ranked English player expected to draw inspiration from countryman Justin Rose's recent triumph at Merion. While Westwood shot a respectable 3-under 67 Thursday, Poulter struggled to a 3-over 73 that puts him in danger of missing the 36-hole cut. While he was able to muster three birdies, Poulter's round was undone by the par-4 17th, where the Englishman carded a quintuple-bogey 9 after putting three balls into the water.

Storyline heading into Friday: Low scores are expected to continue in the second round, and each of the top three players are familiar with success at TPC River Highlands. No shortage of capable players remain in contention after 18 holes, though, with major champions Simpson and Johnson opening with 65s and defending champion Marc Leishman among a large group tied for 10th following a 4-under 66 Thursday.

Shot of the day: Hoffman first jumped up the leaderboard Thursday thanks to an eagle at the par-4 10th hole, which came after holing his approach shot from 169 yards away. It was the first of two eagles for Hoffman on the day, as he would add another just three holes later, and was the second eagle of the day at the 10th, following John Huh, who holed out from 188 yards to begin his opening round early Thursday morning.

Quote of the day: “I don’t know, it’s just one of those places where I gain a little bit of confidence every time I play it.' – Mahan, who finished T-2 at TPC River Highlands in 2008 and T-4 in 2009 in addition to recording his maiden PGA Tour win in Hartford in 2007.