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CROMWELL, Conn. — Charley Hoffman couldn’t help but think about last year as he stood on the 17th tee Thursday at the Travelers Championship.

A year ago, Hoffman hit a similar tee shot right and into the water, staring at a double-bogey, bogey slide on the final two holes of the tournament in which he lost a two-stroke lead and eventually the title.

This time, his drive stayed on the fairway. He finished with a par and then a birdie to complete a first-round 61, one shot off the course record.

“Believe it or not, I was thinking about it going down 16, 17, 18,” he said. “If I could have just gotten those balls in play, I would have been defending champion here. But this year, I got off to a good start and obviously a little more focused on those last two holes. Hopefully I’m there again this year.”

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His 28 on the back nine was the lowest nine holes on the PGA Tour this year, and puts him one shot up on Hunter Mahan, who posted an early 62. Bubba Watson was two strokes back.

Hoffman, Mahan and Watson all have interesting histories in Connecticut. Mahan is the 2007 champ and has two second-place finishes in 11 previous starts at TPC River Highlands. Watson finds himself in contention again after winning in 2010 and tying Hoffman as the runner-up a year ago.

The biggest ovation of the day came when Justin Rose was introduced on the first tee as the U.S. Open champion. Rose shot a 67.

The round marked the pro debut of Chris Williams, the top-ranked amateur in the world the past season. The former Washington star shot a 1-over 71, with two bogeys and a single birdie.

“The first tee, I was a little nervous,” he said. “But then it was the same old, same old. I didn’t play very well, so that was pretty frustrating, but I got it out of the way.”

Former Husky Richard H. Lee shot a 66. Andres Gonzales from Olympia and Ryan Moore from Puyallup had 68s. Kyle Stanley from Gig Harbor shot a 69. Jeff Gove from Seattle had a 73.

Other tournament

Ernie Els shot a 9-under 63, making an eagle and seven birdies, to hold the clubhouse lead in the opening round of the BMW International Open in Munich.

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