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Johnson shares lead at John Deere Classic

July 12, 2013

SILVIS, Illinois (AP) — Defending champion Zach Johnson shot a 7-under 64 to share the lead with Camilo Villegas after Thursday’s opening round of the John Deere Classic.

It was the 17th straight round in the 60s at TPC Deere Run for Johnson, who grew up in nearby Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Matt Bettencourt made the field as a late alternate and shot a 6-under 65 to hold a share of third spot with Daniel Summerhays and Brendon de Jonge.

Boo Weekley is among a pack of players at 5-under 66, while three-time tournament champion Steve Stricker is at 4-under 67 heading into Friday’s second round.

Johnson, who was second in 2009 and third in 2011 before winning last year, avoided bogeys while picking up birdies on five par-4s on Thursday.

“It just feels so natural now,” Johnson said. “It just feels very, very comfortable, much like my golf game — though I don’t want to get overly content with the fact that I’m overly comfortable. So I’ve still got to go to work.”

Villegas was also very comfortable on a course that proved player-friendly in the morning session. He converted a pair of par-3 birdie putts to highlight a strong day on the greens.

“Made some great putts and just kept out of trouble. The golf course is a little receptive, and you could be aggressive,” Villegas said. “I was very pleased with the way I handled myself out there. It was nice, relaxed.”

Stricker entered the tournament as a co-favorite with Johnson, having won at TPC Deere Run from 2009-11. Stricker quickly showed why he’s considered the man the rest of the field could be chasing this weekend.

He just couldn’t keep it going for 18 holes.

De Jonge began his day with the one of the best shots of the tournament so far, holing out from 88 yards for an eagle on the par-5 10th hole. But Stricker matched him on No. 10 just 20 minutes later — chipping in from 83 yards out.

The most unlikely name among Thursday’s leaders had to be Bettencourt’s.

Sensing this week’s field would be full, Bettencourt booked a flight to Salt Lake City for this weekend’s Web.com event. But as he was sitting on a plane in Atlanta, the PGA Tour office called to tell him that he was eligible to replace Neal Lancaster.

Bettencourt was stuck with a flight to Utah regardless. But he then flew straight to Chicago, rented a car and arrived in the Quad Cities just before midnight.

Bettencourt didn’t need any practice time though. He shot his best round at Deere Run since also opening the 2009 tournament with a 65.

“Fortunately I know the golf course, pretty much know the setup, been here enough times,” Bettencourt said. “I love this golf course. It’s a lot of fun, so I was really excited the entire flight to Chicago and kind of (on) adrenaline I guess.”

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP

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