Lots of players, including Hunter Mahan, were seeing red numbers early Thursday (Greenwood/Getty Images)
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Near-perfect scoring conditions were in play Thursday morning at THE PLAYERS Championship. Consequently, the morning wave took advantage with a bevy of low scores, led by Roberto Castro's course-record tying 63.
Of the 72 players in the morning wave, 19 managed rounds in the 60s and half the wave (36 players) broke par on the par-72 TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. Eight other players came in at even par.
"It was ideal," said Adam Scott, the Masters champ who shot a 3-under 69. "There wasn't a breath of wind hardly the front nine. The greens seemed pretty receptive too, so if you were in the fairway you could attack."
Added playing partner Rory McIlroy, who shot 66, the first time he's broken par at TPC Sawgrass: "It was benign out there. There wasn't much wind. It was perfect conditions for scoring and I was able to take advantage of those."
Torrential rainstorms last week in the Jacksonville area threatened the condition of the course, but the weather finally broke on Sunday, allowing the course the dry out.
Zach Johnson, who shot 66, said he wasn't surprised that the course record was tied.
"There's a 9 out there just because of the conditions," Johnson said. "If you got the ball in the fairway, you could be aggressive. The greens are receptive and they're pure.
"Hat's off to the grounds crew after last week."
Hunter Mahan had one of the three bogey-free rounds in the morning (Castro and McIlroy had the other two). He noticed Castro's early success during a glance at the leaderboard and so he kept firing at pins all day. He didn't have to roll in many long putts en route to a 5-under 67.
"I think I had to make a 6-footer maybe on 14 and that was about it," Mahan said. "Other than that, I was just tapping in all day or making birdies.
"Birdies were in bunches out there."
Steve Stricker was 5 under through his first eight holes as he finished with a 67. That ties for his low round at TPC Sawgrass and is just the fifth time in 49 career rounds here that he's shot in the 60s.
Stricker was part of the hot group that included Scott and McIlroy.
"I made six birdies and never got the honors," Stricker said.