SILVIS – "Comfortable" was a word thrown out a lot during the post-round interviews Thursday at the John Deere Classic.
Co-leader Zach Johnson, a TPC at Deere Run board member, was feeling good after winning the title last year, and he came out and shot 7-under 64.
Tied with the local fan favorite was one-time up-and-coming star Camilo Villegas, who said his round of 64 was possible because "it was a nice, relaxed, chill attitude, and I enjoyed every single bit of the round."
But right behind those guys, in a group of three players one stroke back, was the player who had the least amount of time to find a comfort zone.
Californian Matt Bettencourt matched the first-round 65s shot by Brendon de Jonge and Daniel Summerhays – but his round of 6-under par may have been the most impressive of the day, considering how he almost wasn't playing in Silvis this weekend.
The sixth alternate and final player in the field for the John Deere Classic, Bettencourt was actually on a plane from Greenville, S.C., to Salt Lake City on Wednesday afternoon when he was informed that he was in the field at the TPC at Deere Run.
"I guess I broke a rule having my phone on," Bettencourt said after his bogey-free round featuring six birdies. "Ironically, I normally turn my phone off, and to make matters worse, actually the ring tone was on.
"This was definitely a last-minute adventure ... but it was well worth it. I was excited."
Bettencourt's plane was just pulling away from the terminal when his phone rang, a no-no in today's air travel. But the flight attendant who came over to admonish Bettencourt was a golfer himself, and the phone call was so short that all was forgiven when the flight attendant found out what was going on.
Too late to get off the plane, Bettencourt endured the 4-hour flight to Utah. Upon arrival, he picked up his clubs and luggage – "Fortunately, everything made it there," he joked – and rushed over to the airline counters in the Salt Lake City terminal.
After visiting a few and finding no flights to Moline, he settled for a United flight into Chicago. When he arrived in Chicago, he rented a car and made the 3-hour drive to the Quad Cities. He got to Moline around 11:15 Wednesday night, and teed off at 7:20 a.m. Thursday.
"I was going to do everything I could to get here," Bettencourt said. "Today was just about going out and taking care of business, hitting good, quality shots. It would have been nice to know [beforehand] how receptive the greens were and how the fairways were rolling, but after a few holes, you can figure it out. This course is so consistent it really wasn't that big of a challenge."
Villegas also used the term "receptive" when referring to Deere Run. The Colombian got his first professional check at this event in 2004, and even though he's been dealing with some recent struggles, he managed a round of eight birdies and one bogey to tie Johnson atop the leaderboard.
"I was not only physically relaxed, but also mentally relaxed and just trying to enjoy it," Villegas said. "You could be aggressive today, so it's just trying not to get too tense out there. Tension is no good in this game, and I think it definitely helps to keep the flow going."
Johnson found a very familiar flow in his "hometown" tournament, The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native shot his 17th consecutive JDC round in the 60s, firing seven birdies without a bogey. He started on the back nine, and had four birdies in six holes around the turn. He added back-to-back bogeys on holes 5 and 6.=
"That doesn't stink," Johnson joked of his string of 60s. "It was a really, really solid day, and I was playing with two good friends [Steve Stricker and Davis Love III] that were playing great as well. As I continued to make birdies, it just felt like I was going through the routine and the motions of hitting shots."=
With defending champ Johnson playing with the guy whose back-to-back-to-back win streak he broke last year in Stricker – not to mention 1997 PGA Championship winner Love – their gallery was the largest on the course. The crowd lining the ropes was nearly 10 deep in some places, and every shot by each player was greeted with deafening roars or loud groans.
But Johnson still heard the echoes of his victory at his "fifth major" from a year ago, and he easily slipped into that same zone that helped him win on the second playoff hole in 2012.
"It's hard to believe it's been a year," he said. "I just kind of felt like you're just leading into the next round here. The weather feels very similar, the course is once again in tremendous shape; I guess the only difference is that I changed partners when I teed it up on the first hole.
"When you're comfortable with the grounds, with the surroundings and the peripherals ... it just feels natural now. I've gotten so used to being here that it just feels very, very comfortable – but I don't want to get overly content with the fact that I'm overly comfortable. I've still got work to do."
Ninety-one of the 156 players in the field broke par on Day 1, and 61 golfers were within five strokes of the lead, led by the trio at 6 under.
Boo Weekley highlighted a group of five players at 5 under, while Stricker, Love III, K.J. Choi and Chad Campbell headlined a group of 14 guys another shot back.