The Players Day One Recap

In a round that saw the morning wave have a significant advantage to the afternoon groupings, William McGirt and Canadian Mackenzie Hughes are tied for the lead at -5 after the first round of The Players.

– The shot of the day came late in the afternoon when Sergio jarred his tee shot on the par-3 17th. FYI the fans surrounding the 17th are the early heavy favorites for Jabronis of the Week. After Sergio made the ace, they sang “ole, ole, ole” as he approached the green. A clear violation for any American – I expect better from SEC country. The only time it is acceptable to sing that song is when referring to Zahm’s sexual orientation.

– As if falling to Sergio at The Masters wasn’t enough, Justin Rose was about to begin his back swing on the 18th tee, one of the most intimidating tee shots in the world, when Sergio made his ace on 17, just about 100 yards away. Rose had to back off because of the roar.

– Sergio has had his share of up and downs at 17 in his career. Garcia sealed his 2008 playoff victory over Paul Goydos with a tight tee shot in 2008, but chocked away his chances against Tiger in 2013 when he put his tee shot in the water on the penultimate hole.

– After hitting his first ball in the drink, Robert Garrigus put the “game of inches” mantra to use as his third shot was one revolution away from going in the water.

– Much was made of the renovations to the 12th hole prior to the start of the tournament. After the first round, the reviews were mixed. To be fair, we should form a more informed opinion after four rounds with four different hole locations, but it was not the risk-reward, go-for-broke opportunity that many anticipated. J.B. Holmes, who is one back of the lead at -4 and who could probably reach the green with a 5-wood, said he couldn’t imagine a pin placement that would tempt him to go for the green.

– Tom Weiskopf, who was one of the innovators of the implementation of driveable par-4s in golf course design, has talked about how those holes are the flavor of the month, but require nuance in design. Weiskopf’s architectural strategy was hardly welcomed with open arms when he first began designing courses in the 80s, but today, nearly every course has a driveable par-4. The 15th at TPC River Highlands and 17th at TPC Scottsdale are some of the best examples on tour, but the reaction to Sawgrass’ new 12th shows that designing an effective risk-reward par-4 is not an easy task.

– Most players laid up and had themselves anywhere from 80-100 yards for their approach shot – pretty much the same strategy employed before the renovations.

– John Rahm continues to put his name on the leaderboard on a weekly basis. The Spaniard fired a four-under 68, which included a birdie on 18. Thursday marked Rahm’s first round at the Stadium Course and he was clearly not phased by the intimidating setting. Although, as Nick Faldo pointed out on the broadcast, sometimes not having the mental scars that many players have at Sawgrass can be an advantage.

– Alex Noren, Hughes, and Rahm are all on the front page of the leaderboard in their first appearances at The Players. That could be an indication that the newly installed greens eliminate some local knowledge and experience from years past.

– Adam Scott had the best round of the day going as the Aussie was -6 after 15 holes. Scott made a disappointing par at the short par-5 16th and then put it in the water on 17, which led to a double bogey five. On 18, Scott pushed his drive with a three-wood and took on an ill-advised escape shot, which caromed into the water. Scott eventually made a double bogey six and finished the day with a two-under 70.

– No player in the top-11 in the world rankings managed to break 70.


Jordan Spieth: Spieth was under par on his first nine, but stumbled on his back and finished with a 1-over 73. Spieth’s round was partially derailed by a double bogey on No. 1, his 10th hole of the day. Spieth left his approach shot in the bunker short and left of the green, but his lie did not allow him to get the ball close in what otherwise would have been an routine bunker shot. He was left with 45 feet for his par after his bunker shot and three-putted for a six.

What was so unusual about that sequence was what Spieth said after the round. He said that a poor rake job caused his ball to bury in the bunker despite just trickling in. He was so baffled about the lie that he took a picture of it. Spieth wasn’t sure if it was the result of a lazy groundskeeper or an error from a previous group, but he is a noted complainer and this was over the top even by his standards.

Jason Day: Day comes into this week looking to be the seventh player to win The Players multiple times and the first to win it in back-to-back years. The Aussie started out hot and found himself at the top of the leaderboard at -5 halfway through his round. However, Day bogeyed three of his final four holes, including the par-5 ninth, and finished the first round at -2.

Rory McIlroy: Thursday marked Rory’s first competitive round with his new TaylorMade clubs. After an even-par front nine, he made a pair of double bogeys on the back and found himself at +3 after 14. McIlroy was able to battle back with a birdie on 16 and drained a 30-footer for birdie on 18 to salvage a one-over 73. Rory had complained of some back stiffness coming into the tournament and mentioned that he may have aggravated it further after his first round.

Phil Mickelson: Mickelson, who was paired with Spieth, ignited the first roar of the tournament with his eagle on 16. Lefty managed to get to -3, but double bogeyed the third hole (his 12th of the day). He battled back with birdies on five and eight and finished at -2, three back of McGirt and Hughes. Mickelson, who has struggled at Sawgrass since his win in 2007, birdied five, eight, and 14, three of the hardest holes on the course.

Phil did not play a practice round and Thursday marked the first time he had even seen the course since the new renovations. Despite no wins, Phil has played well this year, but he has struggled to finish rounds and tournaments. He hoped this change in his pre-tournament routine would allow in to conserve more energy and play better in the high temperatures expected this week.

Dustin Johnson: Johnson put together a fairly pedestrian round by his standards. The world No. 1 eagled 16 to get his round under par and finished with a one-under 71.

Rickie Fowler: Fowler was in the lead through most of the morning wave, but like Day, made some mistakes coming in to fall back to the pack. He shot a 32 on the back nine (his front), but bogeyed No. 4 and doubled No. 6 before birdieing his final hole to finish at -2.

Stay tuned to The Otter Room throughout the weekend for our continuing coverage of The Players.

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