By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 13/07/18 1:20am
Francesco Molinari continued his impressive form of the last two months as he made a strong start to the John Deere Classic in Illinois.
Molinari carded eight birdies in a high-quality six-under 65 at TPC Deere Run, although he ended the opening day three strokes adrift of an inspired Steve Wheatcroft while defending champion Bryson DeChambeau was forced to withdraw due to a shoulder injury.
Wheatcroft has made the cut in only six of his 15 PGA Tour starts this season, but he put himself in pole position to grab the one place on offer at The 147th Open next week after a stunning finish to his first round.
Francesco Molinari made eight birdies on day one
The world No 927 was three under after 12 holes, but he then birdied six in a row to complete a blemish-free 62 and earn a one-stroke lead over Michael Kim, who covered the back nine in 30 shots and got to nine under before making his only mistake of the day at his penultimate hole.
Molinari, winner of the BMW PGA Championship and the Quicken Loans National in recent weeks, birdied two of the first four and reeled off three in a row around the turn before taking a step back when he three-putted the 13th green, although he got the shot straight back with a 12-foot putt at the next.
Steve Wheatcroft leads on nine under after he birdied the final six holes
The in-form Italian had to take a penalty drop after a wayward tee shot to the short 16th and did well to hole from 15 feet to salvage a bogey, but he birdied 17 and drilled a pure 175-yard second to tap-in range at the last to set up his eighth gain of the round.
Whee Kim also fired a 65 after he undid some excellent early work with a bogey-bogey finish, while former winner and course specialist Zach Johnson slipped to two over before recovering to return a 69.
Bryson DeChambeau appeared at the Sky Cart with his shoulder heavily strapped after withdrawing from the John Deere Classic, but he vowed to be fit for The Open.
But the big story of the day was later provided by defending champion DeChambeau, who sustained a right shoulder injury while hitting out of the rough on the second hole which was thicker than he had anticipated.
The 24-year-old, who lifted his second PGA Tour title at The Memorial last month, played through the pain for another 13 holes before picking up his ball on the 16th green and heading back to the clubhouse for a medical assessment on his ailment.
Live PGA Tour Golf
July 13, 2018, 6:30pm