Six players sit tied atop the leaderboard after the first round of the PLAYERS Championship. 85 players shot par or better at TPC Sawgrass on Thursdayand the leaders sit at -6.
Going out in the morning wave, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson and Alex Noren set the pace with 66s. The trio combined for just one bogey on a relatively benign day at TPC Sawgrass. Johnson is trying to retain his world #1 ranking this week, as 5 other players have the ability to catch him. He has struggled at the PLAYERS in the past but is off to a very strong start this week.
Matt Kuchar, Chesson Hadley and Patrick Cantlay joined the lead in the afternoon. Kuchar and Cantlay used their short games to shoot up the leaderboard while Hadley led the field in strokes gained putting. The sixsome is the largest group to lead at the PLAYERS after any round at the PLAYERS since 1982. Full Leaderboard.
Mission Kimpossible II
Defending PLAYERS champion Si Woo Kim got off to a strong start on Thursday with a 67. His score of -5 is the lowest score for any defending champion in the history of the PLAYERS. While he hasn’t won yet, Si Woo has had a strong season this year with 4 top 10s and a playoff loss at the RBC Heritage.
First alternate Keith Mitchell was the last man in the field this week. After finding out he would be playing on Wednesday morning, Mitchell birdied his first 4 holes on his way to a 67. His best finish this season was a runner-up in the Dominican Republic, and he also has a T-6 at the Houston Open. Mitchell is one of the longest players on tour, finishing Thursday 8th in strokes gained off the tee.
Battling for Position
Bubba Watson, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose and Xander Schauffele all shot first-round 68s. The group at 69 includes Jason Day, Tommy Fleetwood, Adam Scott, and Jimmy Walker. Maybe it actually is the best field in golf...
Much of the time spent talking about groups this week was centered on the pairings of Justin Thomas/Jordan Spieth/Rory McIlory and Tiger Woods/Phil Mickelson/Rickie Fowler. Only Rory would shoot under par on Thursday, and Phil struggled to a pedestrian 79 (more on him later).
The Elephant in the Boardroom
There are no two ways about it, Phil Mickelson’s shirt stole the show on Thursday. It was all Nick Faldo could think about on the broadcast. Phil debuted the full button down during his practice round at the Masters, but no one ever thought he would use it during competition. He is using the shirt because of a sponsorship he signed this spring with Mizzen + Main, the makers of the shirt. In exchange, Phil gets equity in the company plus a ton of attention on the golf course and on social media.
Top 5 Moments of Last 5 Years
As we head into Friday at TPC Sawgrass, we thought it would be fun to look back at the most memorable weekend moments of the last 5 PLAYERS Championships.
5th Place - Ian Poulter (2017)
Coming into the PLAYERS in poor form, Ian Poulter found himself in unfamiliar territory on Sunday. Just two back of the lead heading into the final stretch, Poulter laid up on 16, hit it 40 feet left of the pin on 17, and laid back on 18. This was met with a ton of criticism as it was pretty clear that he was playing for the money and world ranking points instead of trying to win the tournament. Oh, and he shanked his shot from the fairway on 18. Almost forgot that. He went on to tie for 2nd.
4th Place - Tiger Woods and Joey Lacava (2013)
Seemingly in the midst of a historic year, Tiger won his fourth tournament of the year at the 2013 PLAYERS. It was 12 years since his first victory at TPC Sawgrass, and he celebrated with a rather uncharacteristic embrace with Joey Lacava.
3rd Place - Martin Kaymer (2014)
The 2014 PLAYERS seemed all but wrapped up as Martin Kaymer stood on the 15th tee with a 4-shot lead. By the time he reached 17, the lead was down to 1. With the typical back right pin, Kaymer left himself on the front of the green and an incredibly difficult 2-putt. After not hitting the first putt hard enough, Kaymer jarred a 28-footer for par and went on to claim the PLAYERS title.
2nd Place - Ken Duke (2016)
The 3rd round of the 2016 PLAYERS was one for the record books. 53% of players shot 76 or worse, and only six players broke par. Enter Ken Duke. Starting the day tied for 56th place, Duke shot a blistering 65 that included 7 birdies and beat the field average by more than 10.
Jason Day said after the round, “What course was [Ken Duke] playing? Was he on the course across the street? That should be the course record." Duke went on to tie for 3rd place on Sunday.
1st Place - Rickie Fowler (2015)
Entering the final 6 holes of the 2015 PLAYERS, Rickie Fowler was 5 shots back and in need of a miracle. He got it. Rickie birdied 13, birdied 15, eagled 16, birdied 17 and birdied 18 to get into the clubhouse tied for the lead. He then birdied 17 twice in a playoff with Kevin Kisner and Sergio Garcia. His final shot into the 17th green somehow ended up right of the Sunday pin and he converted the putt for one of the most remarkable finishes and victories in recent memory.
Some golf course news
The famed Charles Alison-designed Hirono C.C. in Japan has decided to undertake a restoration under the watchful eye of Martin Ebert. The club has been on the short list of courses most needing a restoration. The efforts should bring Hirono back to being one of the greatest courses in the world.
The Baylor women’s golf team qualified for the NCAA Championship after some players spent the night before the final round in the emergency room. Full story.
Ryan Brehm leads Scott Langley and Brett Drewitt on the Web.com Tour.
Two players in a U.S. Open local qualifier left the tournament early, and the alternate spot was decided by a coin flip. Full story.