Steve Stricker played his own game on Thursday and finished his round at 5 under. (Heathcote/Getty Images)
By Fred Albers, PGA TOUR.COM Correspondent
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- There is an awful lot of red on the leaderboard at TPC Sawgrass. Thanks to little wind in the morning and receptive greens, 67 players were able to break par. A remarkable 33 players shot 69 or better. We could have a sub-par cut on Friday. It did not take golfers long to figure out they could be aggressive. Players took very bold attack lines because the putting surfaces never really became firm. Approach shots were leaving pitch marks even late in the day. Jason Bohn looked at the leaderboard and remarked, “They are going to take one look at these scores and suck every bit out moisture out of the greens tonight.” TPC Sawgrass has the ability to dramatically change putting surfaces thanks to a “precise air system” underneath the greens but it’s my guess the putting surfaces will become gradually more firm until, by Sunday afternoon, it becomes very difficult to score.
Proximity: I guess somebody forgot to tell Roberto Castro that it takes a while to figure out how to score at TPC Sawgrass. In his first round at THE PLAYERS, Castro missed just one fairway, hit 15 greens and took 26 putts in a course record-tying 63. He did not just hit greens, he stuck it tight. Castro leads the tournament in proximity to the hole, putting from an average distance of 21 feet, 6 inches. You give yourself enough birdie opportunities and you are going to make some putts.
Short: Tiger Woods said the course played short because the ball was traveling so far. He hit a 197-yard 8-iron into the 18th … and hit it over the green. That’s XXL-large. Because the ball was traveling so far, Woods hit very few drivers during the round.
Adjustment: Padraig Harrington knew something was wrong last week while first using his new belly putter. His grip normally sets up open and the longer putter was sitting too square to the ground. He adjusted the grip this week and felt very good about an opening-round 68 that consisted of just 25 putts. Harrington got to experience both frustration and elation in a short period of time. He eagled the second, doubled the third, birdied the fourth and bogeyed the fifth.
Management: Rory McIlroy showed great maturity and course management in the opening round. He frequently hit lay-ups off of tees, valuing position over length. McIlory reasoned he is hitting his irons so well that anything in the fairway with a good lie could lead to birdie. Players call that, “playing to their strength” and it usually leads to low scores. Sometimes it’s difficult to identify your strength and stick to the gameplan. McIlory did both in the opening round. He also switched to a putter that had slightly more loft that McIlroy says gets the ball rolling more quickly.
Practice: Ryan Palmer has not had much success at TPC Sawgrass. He has missed cuts in six of seven tournaments here, so Palmer decided to change things. He did his pre-tournament work back in Dallas, not arriving at the course until Wednesday afternoon. Palmer played just nine holes in a practice round then posted a 67. His mind was clear and his putter was hot. Palmer used just 22 putts in the opening round.
Honors: Steve Stricker knew exactly how he stood with his fellow competitors; he was last in the batting order. Stricker was six under par through 11 holes and never had honors one time. He shot 67 with six birdies and did not hit first the entire day. Stricker played with Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott. McIlroy and Stricker posted the exact same score for the first 11 holes while Scott shot 69 in his first start since winning The Masters.
Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here