Fernandez-Castano finds form at Players

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano during Thursday's first round of the PGA Tour's 2014 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

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7:25:31 AM ET. 08/23/2014




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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – When Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano played in the 2013 WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, he told his wife if he ever earned a PGA Tour card, he’d like to settle in Key Biscayne, Fla.

On the strength of a T-3 at the 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational and T-10 at the U.S. Open, “Gonzo” for short, earned enough points to finish in the top 125 on the non-member FedEx Cup points list and earn a PGA Tour card for 2013-14.

“It’s my dream to play here,” he said. “You only get so many opportunities in life and when you do you have to jump at them.”

So Ryder Cup year be damned, he moved his wife and three young kids from Madrid, Spain, to Key Biscayne in December, and life on an island is everything he hoped it would be. But the transition to playing the Tour hasn’t gone as smoothly for the 48th ranked player in the world.

“I mean, I could hardly break 80 on the first couple of tournaments of the year,” Fernandez-Castano said.

Fernandez-Castano, who counts the 2013 BMW Masters among his seven European Tour victories, said he feels like a rookie all over again.

“Every week is kind of a new week,” he said. “I think that I'm at a bit of a disadvantage with the rest of the guys out here. They know most of the courses. They know where to stay. They know where to go and eat. For me, everything is new this year.”

So far, he hasn’t finished better than T-24, and has been pressing, which is why his caddie of six years, Jeff Paul, gave him these final instructions before he teed off at the ninth hole: “Focus,” Jeff Paul said. “Keep playing your game.”

Fernandez-Castano, 33, did just that carding a 5-under 67 in the opening round of The Players Championship.

It all began with a clutch 10-foot par putt at the 10th hole, his first of the day.

“Massive,” Paul said. “You may not be interviewing him now if that one doesn’t go in.”

Fernandez-Castano has struggled with his driver. His tendency is to be too steep, hold on, and not make a full release. The result too often is a weak shot to the right. Unhappy with the way he was hitting the ball during his practice round, he returned to the range late in the afternoon and sampled a different driver shaft, then took it for a two-hole test drive before deciding to put it in play. When asked to provide the specs, he said he doesn’t fret over such details.

“I know it is Oban and it is blue,” he said. “That’s all I can tell you.”

It is a blue Oban Kiyoshi Tour Limited. He used it to hit 10 of 14 fairways and said it was the key to his round.

“If you want to be able to attack those flags, you need to be in the fairway, and that's exactly what I haven't been doing lately; but today everything went good,” he said.

Taking advantage of warm, calm conditions, Fernandez-Castano jumped into red figures with a birdie at No. 12, added a two-putt birdie at the par-5 16th, then strung together three straight birdies at Nos. 18-2. Fernandez-Castano gave back a stroke with a three-putt at the fourth, but tacked on back-to-back birdies at Nos. 6-7. He closed with a sloppy bogey after tugging his second at the par 5 into the pine straw left of the green. Overall, good driving set up precise iron play. All of his seven birdies were inside 12 feet. Fernandez-Castano, relying on the claw grip he’s used since 2011 “out of desperation,” took just 25 putts. For one day, he enjoyed his result almost as much as his new surroundings.

“It's been a change for good I have to say,” he said. “If it works, great, and if not, well, we can always go back with no regrets.”

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