Scott Stallings confers with his caddy, Frank Williams, on Thursday during the first round of THE PLAYERS.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Scott Stallings doesn't remember ever making seven birdies ... and shooting 71. But that's what happened to him Thursday during the first round of THE PLAYERS Championship.
Stallings spent about two hours at the top of the leaderboard after making birdies on his first five holes but ended up relinquishing that spot to Robert Castro, who tied the course record with a 63. He ran into trouble on the back nine -- making bogey at the par-5 11th where he drove it left and had to chip out, a double at the 12th where he had to take an unplayable under a bush and a triple at the 16th where he hit two balls into the water.
"It just goes to show about the golf course and really how volatile it is," Stallings said. "Obviously, Roberto played great today, but he would go ahead and tell you that it wasn't very hard to see it go the other way either."
Stallings did manage two birdies on his final nine holes but came home in a disappointing 40. The 71 he shot was the first time Stallings had broken par at TPC Sawgrass.
"You don't have to hit very many bad shots out here on this course to have it bite you a little bit," Stallings said. "... (I am) sitting in the middle of the fairway on 16 at 3 under, and I walk off the hole even par. Wind's kind of swirling around a little bit, and it's tough to pick a club.
"Obviously, I picked the wrong one, but I think that's the beauty of the golf course. It's there for the taking. If you guess right and pick it at the right time and come back and hit two good shots and make birdie on 18. It's kind of the way it went."
The first five holes, though, were much more fun. Stallings drained a 36-footer at No. 1, then made putts of 3, 20, 17 and 5 feet on his next four holes to get to 5 under. The stretch was one shy of the record for consecutive birdies at THE PLAYERS.
"It was just nice to see some putts go in," said Stallings, who has missed his last three cuts. The biggest challenge on Thursday was to stay "level-headed," he said.
"You can't get too low with the lows or too high with the highs, especially on this course," Stallings explained. "Especially you get frustrated with a hole like 16, then you stand on 17 and it's like, man, if I don't get control, I'm going to make a mess of this one too.
"You've got to compose yourself really quick and just expect that the course of a 72-hole tournament weird stuff's going to happen."
Even though he struggled on the back nine, Stallings said he felt the golf course was set up fairly. He was also impressed with the condition, given the Stadium Course absorbed about 10 inches of rain last week.
"They did a great job, no questionable pins or anything like that," Stallings said. "The greens are phenomenal. I think it just goes to show how good the people are that work on the golf course. It's hard to believe this course is under water a week ago."