PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Partly because of the soft and slow greens and partly because of the lack of wind, the first round of the Players Championship will be remembered for low scoring.
With a stroke average of 71.993, the first round featured 84 players shooting par or better and 28 players in the 60s at TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course.
With an afternoon 63, Martin Kaymer became the third competitor to open the Players at 9 under.
Greg Norman opened with a 63 in the 1994 Players and would shoot four rounds in the 60s on his way to a tournament-record 24 under.
In 1994, 93 players were at par or better in the first round.
Here are 5 Things to know about Thursday’s opening round:
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1. GOING VERY LOW: Germany’s Martin Kaymer must have made course architect Pete Dye cringe Thursday by recording the first 29 in The Players Championship’s three-plus decades at TPC Sawgrass.
After starting on the 10th hole and turning in 2-under 34, Kaymer recorded seven birdies on the front nine, missing only on Nos. 3 and 5.
“I didn’t make many mistakes today, which was nice,” Kaymer said. “Overall ballstriking was very good. Fortunately I could take advantage of some putts on my back nine, on the front nine, on the golf course. It was just a very, very good round of golf.”
Kaymer has struggled mightily during the past couple of years, not recording a top 10 in 2014 and posting only four rounds in the 60s in this calendar year on the PGA Tour.
But in his past two starts, at Hilton Head and Quail Hollow, Kaymer has shot three rounds in the 60s. If not for a final-round 75 at Quail Hollow, he would have done much better than a T-18, his best finish this year.
“I stopped thinking; that’s pretty much the bottom line,” Kaymer said, pinpointing his turnaround. “I know I can hit pretty much every shot when I needed to hit it. If it’s a draw, if it’s a fade, low or high, I know that I can do it. It’s just a matter of getting the confidence on the golf course and then letting it happen and really doing it.”
Kaymer, 29, the 2010 PGA champion, was No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for eight weeks in early 2011. He has the hard part out of the way this week, having played in the afternoon. Now he will have a morning tee time, with softer greens and less wind and, it would seem, a bit of confidence as well.
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2. HAPPY ENDING: It’s short, but it can reach up and bite at any time. Such is the nature of TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course. Geoff Ogilvy and Billy Horschel experienced the early glare of Pete Dye’s masterpiece in Thursday’s first round.
Reflecting after the round upon his 4-over start through five holes, including a double bogey at the par-3 third hole, Ogilvy said he really didn’t miss a shot. But by the time he got to the sixth hole, he likely would’ve been happy to finish the day at even par.
Instead, he birdied eight of his final 12 holes, including a back-nine 30, to shoot 3-under 69.
“I was just annoyed more than anything else,” said Ogilvy, 36, a seven-time winner on Tour who hasn’t won since 2010. “I thought if I got back somewhere near par by the end of the day, I would be in pretty good shape. Don’t get me wrong; you wouldn’t have gotten any positive words out of me on the sixth tee, but I knew I was playing all right, so I didn’t freak out completely.”
Horschel stared even worse than Ogilvy, making an 8 on the par-4 fourth hole before standing on the sixth tee at 5 over. Like Ogilvy, Horschel made a significant move, posting six birdies the rest of the way – including three in a row, at Nos. 16, 17 and 18 – to get back to even par.
“I wasn’t even trying to get it back to a score,” Horschel said of his mindset on the sixth tee. “I just wanted to get something going in the right direction. I didn’t care if I played great and shot 1 under or I got it back to even par the way I did. I just wanted something positive to take out of the round, and so I was able to get it back to even. Obviously I knew on 18, I was like, ‘I want to make this putt.’ I wanted to get back to even.”
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3. SHREWD ROOKIE: Sometimes it’s the pars, not the birdies that count.
For Jordan Spieth, making a 37-footer on the 18th hole, his ninth of the day, was the perfect way to make the turn. It jump-started what had been a mediocre 1-under round at that point. Spieth birdied four holes on his second nine en route to a homeward 32 and a 5-under 67 in his inaugural voyage around TPC Sawgrass.
“I felt like I was playing solid golf, needed to stay patient, and Michael (Greller, his caddie) and I did a great job of that,” Spieth said of his first nine. “With the putter in my hand, I felt a lot more comfortable there and made a few more coming in to post a solid back nine.”
Patience and better execution have been Spieth’s touchstones during his sophomore year on Tour. That steady approach was evident earlier this year at the Masters, where he led during the final round before an eventual tie for second, and again in his first round Thursday.
“What I’ve really changed in my game over the last year after playing so many PGA Tour golf courses is learning how to play the smart shot, commit to more lines that are safer and strike the ball at those lines,” Spieth said after a round in which his longest putt for par was 6 feet. “Sometimes you overdo it and it goes right next to the hole. But less and less, I’m putting myself in really tough positions and short-siding myself.”
Spieth, 20, has a long way to go, but with the solid start he could join a unique club of only three players who have won the Players in their first appearances: Jack Nicklaus (1974), Hal Sutton (1983) and Craig Perks (2002).
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4. IS RIGHT-HANDED NEXT? Sandwiched between James Driscoll and Boo Weekley in the first-round scores, in 111th place, sits a struggling Phil Mickelson.
With a 3-over 75, Mickelson continues a forgettable season. His play has been inconsistent, and he is puzzled about how to change direction.
“I was playing well and hit a lot of greens, but it was frustrating because I was over par,” Mickelson said of his morning round. “It’s soft; there are just a lot of birdies out there. It’s a little disappointing and frustrating.”
Mickelson has not finished on the leaderboard at the Players since winning in 2007. Rounds of 72-73 last year produced his first missed cut here since 2000. With a field of 84 players at par or better, Mickelson is in danger of missing the weekend.
“Come out and try to play as hard as I can and see how low I can shoot,” Mickelson said of his strategy for Friday’s second round. “But I’m not real worried about it; it’s just not quite clicking right now.”
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Adam Scott, the 2004 Players champion, was 1 under through 10 holes after erasing a double-bogey 5 on the par-3 eighth hole. With bogeys at the Nos. 13 and 14 and consecutive double bogeys to finish the round, Scott is 5 over and in danger of missing the cut. . . . Russell Henley made nine birdies, tying Kaymer’s number, but a double-bogey 6 on the seventh hole made the difference between Henley’s potentially tying the course record and finishing at 65. . . . Five players posted bogey-free rounds Thursday: Kaymer (63), Lee Westwood (67), Brian Stuard (67), Spieth (67) and Graham DeLaet (69).
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Recent first-round scoring averages at TPC Sawgrass:
- 2014: 71.99
- 2013: 72.01
- 2012: 72.37
- 2011: 72.22
- 2010: 71.10
- 2009: 72.08
- 2008: 73.72
- 2007: 75.41