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Rickie Fowler is sentimental favorite

Rickie Fowler is sentimental favorite

DETROIT — Consider the early Thursday weather a harbinger of what was to come in the 2024 Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club: A cold start followed by a surge of heat on the course.

That started with Nate Lashley, who knows something about starting the Rocket with a bang. The 2019 winner, who went from third alternate to champion while leading wire-to-wire, needed just two holes to deliver a hole-in-one, acing the par-3 No. 11 after starting on the back nine.

But Lashley couldn’t stay hot, finishing with a 2-under-par 70. Instead, it was Akshay Bhatia closing the first round with a one-stroke lead after firing an 8-under 64. Behind him, at 7 under, are Michael Kim and Taylor Montgomery. They’re trailed by a logjam of five golfers at 6 under, including, most notably, 2023 Rocket champ Rickie Fowler and Will Zalatoris, the No. 38 golfer in the FedEx Cup standings.

Four takeaways

Precision counts on approach — and on the greens

Course architect Donald Ross delivered a classic course for the PGA Tour field, but small greens and high pin placements left some golfers struggling with their putts.

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That included Tom Kim. the 22-year-old fired a 1-over 73, mostly due to his early putts. Kim’s approach shots were phenomenal, but he was unable to sink his putts, with four bogeys — two on the front nine and two more on the back.

Kim’s playing partner, Cameron Young, opened with a 5-under 67 to go into the clubhouse tied for second (though he later dropped to a tie for ninth) because he placed the ball in the best position on the green and sunk his putts.

Fowler showed promise with a solid round

Fowler is the sentimental favorite to repeat as Rocket champ, and he played this course like a 10-year vet, taking the smart shots and making some putts. Fowler shot a cool 6-under 66 without a bogey, closing with three birdies in his final five holes.

“Coming off of last week, finally started to see some putts go in there and putted well. I was looking forward to this week coming back to a place I’ve played well and had success,” he said.

Likewise, Bhatia grabbed the lead on a late push in the back nine, posting a birdie, an eagle, and a birdie on Nos. 16-18.

Still, if Fowler’s going to make a move on Day 2, he needs to turn some of his pars into birdies.

“There’s always that little extra pressure partly from being a partner with Rocket and being the defending champion here,…


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