PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Under sunny skies with temperatures reaching into the low ‘90s, The Players Championship got under way Thursday at The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.
William McGirt and PGA Tour rookie Mackenzie Hughes share the opening round lead at -5, 67.
This marks the fifth time McGirt, 37, has held the lead or a share of the lead after 18 holes. In four prior tries, he has failed to convert the opening round lead into a victory or top-five.
“Well, it was just a good solid day all around. Couple hiccups there, 10 and 18, but played solid on the front. I think I missed one green and that was No. 5. Chipped it up there pretty close,” McGirt said.
On Thursday McGirt eagled Nos. 11 and 16. In four prior starts at TPC Sawgrass, McGirt’s only other sub-70 round was a 7-under 65 in the second-round last year.
“It was a matter of having a good day. I don’t know that you can really learn this golf course, because the thing with this place is you hit one that lands four, five feet off the putting surface, there’s no telling what’s going to happen to it,” noted McGirt.
McGirt is in search of his second PGA Tour victory after winning the 2016 Memorial Tournament. In 15 starts this season, he has three top 10s and is 52nd in the FedExCup standings.
grabbed a share of the first-round lead with a bogey-free round.
“I’m a good driver of the golf ball, so I drove the ball in play and I was in the fairway a fair bit, so that’s the biggest part for me, I think,” Hughes said. Once you got in the fairway, these pins you can get at if you’re in the short grass. I was able to do that today and try to do more of that the next three days.”
This is the second-time Hughes has taken a share of the 18-hole lead/co-lead. The first came at The RSM Classic in November, where he shot a 9-under 61. The 2016 Web.com Tour graduate converted that lead into his first career victory in only his ninth start.
With a victory, Hughes would become the first rookie to win The Players and would join Stephen Ames, who won in 2006, as the only Canadians to win.
“It was very solid, but yeah, to go bogey-free around this place, very difficult to do, obviously, and I started the day, I wouldn’t have expected a round like that, but I knew my game was trending,” Hughes added.
He entered the week as the second highest-ranked rookie in the FedExCup standings at No. 20. In 19 starts, he’s posted a victory and 12 made cuts, but he has missed the cut in three of his last four starts.
“I was really patient. It was a really-hard golf course — it’s a hard golf course when there’s no wind and when the wind was blowing this afternoon it was firm and you just must keep the ball in front of you. I missed some short putts, but you just stick with it. And having no bogeys around this place was helpful,” Hughes said.
The Players’ field includes the top 10 players and 48 of top 50 golfers in Official World Golf Ranking and features 111 PGA Tour winners who have amassed a total of 455 PGA Tour victories.
Among that group are each of the top 10 players in the current FedExCup standings and every winner on the PGA Tour since last year’s Players Championship.
Last year’s champion, Jason Day, is in the field as are eight other former Players champions: Rickie Fowler (2015), Martin Kaymer of Germany (2014), Matt Kuchar (2012), K.J. Choi of South Korea (2011), Henrik Stenson of Sweden (2009), Sergio Garcia of Spain (2008), Phil Mickelson (2007) and Adam Scott of Australia (2004).
They will be chasing a total purse of $10.5 million, of which $1.89 million goes to the winner along with 600 FedExCup points.
THURSDAY NOTES: Heading to the 17th tee with a one-shot lead at 6-under, Adam Scott hit his ball in the water moments after Sergio Garcia’s ace. His bogey at No. 17 and bogey at No. 18 dropped him to 2-under 70, three shots off the lead.
LOOKING FOR FIRST: Italy’s Francesco Molinari shot a 3-under 69 Thursday in his bid to join Craig Perks (2002) and Tim Clark (2010) as the only players in PGA Tour history to earn their first career victory at The Players. Molinari has posted top-10s in back-to-back starts at TPC Sawgrass with a seventh in 2016 and sixth in 2014. Last year, he was inside the top 10 on the leaderboard after each round. In six career starts at Sawgrass, Molinari has three top-10s and three missed cuts.
CANTLAY CAN PLAY: In his first start Patrick Cantlay was one of just two players to hit 17 of 18 greens joining Lucas Glover on his way to an opening 3-under 69. Cantlay began the season playing on a major-medical extension but satisfied the requirements of that extension with a solo second-place finish at the Valspar Championship in March and earned a spot in the field.
DEFENDING CHAMP: Defending champion Jason Day played his first 14 holes, started on No. 10, at 5-under with no bogeys, before three bogeys in his last four holes to post a 2-under 70. No player has ever won back-to-back at The Players Championship titles. Since tournament moved to TPC Sawgrass in 1982, the best opening round by a defending champion is 68 by Craig Perks in 2003.
ISLAND ACE: 2008 champion Sergio Garcia aced No. 17, marking the eighth hole-in-one at No. 17 in tournament history. This marked Garcia’s second hole-in-one on the PGA Tour. Garcia also owns the longest active-cuts-made streak at The Players with 13.
CADDIE SHACK: Tommy Fleetwood’s caddie, Ian Finnis, won The Players Championship Caddie Competition in memory of Bruce Edwards with a shot to 6 feet, 11 inches. Each year players and caddies switch roles at the 17th hole during the practice round, and the caddies get the opportunity to take a swing. Each player contributes to the prize fund and the caddie who ends up closest to the pin takes home the money. The competition is named to honor Edwards, Tom Watson’s longtime caddie and friend, who passed away in 2004 from ALS or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
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