Blixt, a 39-year old journeyman, has won three times on the PGA Tour, the last time in the 2016-17 season. He hadn’t even played in a PGA Tour since the Byron Nelson tournament in May, and hadn’t survived a 36-hole in five of his eight tournaments this season.
All that changed once he got to TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis, IL. Blixt, an early starter playing in ideal weather conditions, made four birdies and a 43-foot eagle putt in his final eight holes to post a 9-under-par 62.
Blixt also made an eagle on the par-5 second hole. He shot 29 on TPC Deere Run’s back side and ended the day with a two-stroke lead on Grayson Murray, a player who has been similarly unspectacular the last few years. His 64 was his best round in three years.
Though their scores were great on Thursday, their games have been in decline. Blixt arrived in the Quad Cities with a No. 210 ranking in the FedEx Cup standings, with only the top 70 advancing to postseaon play, and he is No. 842 in the Official World Golf Rankings.
Murray, 29, is No. 221 in the FedEx and 225 in the OWGR. He got a big boost by winning an event on the Korn Ferry Tour a month ago.
So, what happened to turn their games around?
“I saw my swing coach back home (he lives in Jacksonville, FL., now) and, after six weeks off I just tried to put some swings on it,’’ said Blixt, who played collegiately at Florida State. “It worked out.’’
The two eagles were obviously the key.
“Those holes, if you take advantage of them, you’re really happy,’’ said Blixt. “I was happy to make those (eagles) and get going.’’
Murray was bogey-free in the afternoon until his approach to No. 18 landed in a green-side bunker. He couldn’t get up-and-down to save par but had no complaints.
“I missed a couple of birdie chances early, but stayed patient and it worked out,’’ he said. “I had such a solid back nine. I’ll take it, even with the bogey to finish. I’m in a good position going forward.’’
The question is can Blixt and Murray stay there? Time will tell.
Pre-tournament talk centered on another Swede, 23-year old Ludvig Aberg. He’s shown great promise since sweeping all three collegiate player-of-the-year awards in his final season at Texas Tech. He’s in his fourth PGA Tour event since turning pro and finished in the top 25 twice.
Counting his amateur days Aberg appeared in five PGA Tour events and made the cut in every one. He has been getting noticed, and the JDC gave him a special pairing in Wednesday’s pro-am. He played the front nine with the event’s celebrity, Iowa basketball star Caitlin Clark. The popular Clark swelled the galleries and impressed Aberg.
“She’s a rock star. I was just a passenger,’’ said Aberg. “It was cool.’’
Last week in Detroit he was paired for two rounds with Luke Donald, the European Ryder Cup champion. That spiked talk of Aberg possibly being a Ryder Cup selection for Europe. He called Donald “a great guy’’ but was guarded about the Ryder Cup.
“If I was asked about the Ryder Cup a few weeks ago I’d have said `no way’ because I was still in college,’’ said Aberg. “All I can do is prepare for every tournament and see where that takes me.’’
Next week it’ll take him to the Scottish Open, the last stop before the year’s final major – the British Open.
Aberg’s 68 on Thursday matched the score of defending champion J.T. Poston, who – like Blixt – started with a 62 en route to leading wire to wire last year.
Best of the Illinois contingent was Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, who is tied for 13th after posting a 67. Doug Ghim, D.A. Points and Dylan Wu all carded 70s and Kevin Streelman is at 71.