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Tom Kim, on brink of 22, shoots 62 to lead Travelers

Tom Kim of South Korea birdied his final two holes to break away from the pack and secure the first-round lead at the Travelers Championship on Thursday in Cromwell, Conn.

One day shy of his 22nd birthday, Kim posted an 8-under 62 at TPC River Highlands to build a two-shot cushion over Rickie Fowler, Will Zalatoris, Akshay Bhatia and Kurt Kitayama. Scottie Scheffler is part of a tie at 5-under 65.

Kim, who shares a birthday with Scheffler, said he celebrated quite simply earlier this week.

“We had some pizza early on in the week. I had a lot of pizza,” Kim said. “So I kind of told myself, no matter what, I wouldn’t do that in a tournament, but it’s my birthday and it’s kind of a tradition, you know, me, Scottie, we have the same birthday, so we had an early birthday celebration.”

Five of Kim’s birdies came on the back nine, including a 16-foot putt at the par-4 10th hole and a 2 1/2-footer following a terrific approach at the par-4 12th. He punctuated his round by converting birdie putts from 14 and 7 feet, respectively.

Already a three-time winner on tour, Kim is looking for his first win at a signature event. The Travelers is the tour’s last signature event of the regular season, with $20 million in prize money on offer and no 36-hole cut coming Friday.

This breakthrough has been a long time coming for Kim, who is competing on tour for the eighth straight week with no breaks.

“I kind of sat down and I’m like, ‘You know what, it’s almost the last stretch of the season, and I want to really — I feel like I’m playing good, I just can’t, for some reason I can’t show it off in golf tournaments,'” Kim said. “I think that’s the reason why I’m playing a lot more (often) than I normally ever would is because if you keep getting reps in in tournaments you kind of keep sharpening, sharpening, sharpening and that’s what’s happening.”

Fowler and Bhatia had the only bogey-free rounds among the quartet at 6 under. Bhatia’s came with an eagle putt at the par-5 13th hole.

Fowler, who hasn’t won since the Rocket Mortgage Classic 11 1/2 months ago, holed three birdies on each side of his card.

“Putting well helps free up other things,” Fowler said. “You’re not seeing putts go in and it kind of adds some extra stress to having to hit greens or hit it closer, chip it close, that circle gets quite a bit bigger once you see some go in. That’s a big part.”

Zalatoris shot the lowest round of his season after recovering from back surgery in 2023. He made seven birdies during a nine-hole stretch from Nos. 7-15, concluding with four in a row.

“The further I get from the surgeries that I had last year the more comfortable I’m feeling with my back, the quicker I’m recovering, the better I’m feeling,” Zalatoris said. “So really as the year goes on, even though my results haven’t showed it, I felt a lot better. I just got into some bad habits and I thought it was just kind of a nice reset after the U.S. Open.”

Scheffler, the World No. 1, credited a tweak in his swing mechanics for helping him get back on track; Thursday ended a six-round streak of failing to break 70.

“It’s kind of hard to explain, to be honest with you,” Scheffler said of his swing tweak, “but just really getting better feel coming at the top of my swing, making sure my grip’s kind of in the right position.”

Tied with Scheffler at 5 under are Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Patrick Rodgers, Canadians Taylor Pendrith and Mackenzie Hughes and Australia’s Cam Davis. Collin Morikawa, Wyndham Clark and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama highlight a five-way tie at 4-under 66.

Defending champion Keegan Bradley opened with a 1-under 69.

–Field Level Media

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