Roundtable: Surprises, analysis from Thursday at THE PLAYERS
March 14, 2019
By Staff, PGATOUR.COM
- March 14, 2019
Tommy Fleetwood, Keegan Bradley tied for the lead at THE PLAYERS
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Other than a single par putt, the first round of THE PLAYERS Championship is done. PGATOUR.COM’s writers weigh in on their observations after Thursday’s play at TPC Sawgrass.
Your top takeaway from Thursday’s opening round?
BEN EVERILL: Some things certainly remain on trend. Keegan Bradley has been playing great Thursday golf lately and that continued. Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy are back in the mix again… The huge question mark remains… can those three buck the other trend they’ve faced… weekend fades.
MIKE McALLISTER: March or May, has anything really changed at TPC Sawgrass? Shotmakers are still thriving – hello, Brian Harman, Ryan Moore, Kevin Kisner et al.
JIM McCABE: Vintage Stadium Course day, with wide variety of skill sets on the leaderboard. Course favors no specific player.
CAMERON MORFIT: There had been talk of a different TPC Sawgrass in March. Cooler and just plain tougher, with a possible wind out of the north into the players' faces on 17 and 18. Didn't happen. The 17th played downwind and was a sand wedge for everyone who didn't over club. We saw an albatross and an ace. The blustery March conditions may still await on the weekend, though.
HELEN ROSS: Some things haven’t changed no matter when the tournament is played. The Stadium Course still rewards the shotmakers but the greens are a little bit softer than they were in May so players can be more aggressive. The weekend should be fun.
ANDREW TURSKY: Although the two leaders teed off in opposing waves on Thursday, early morning versus afternoon tee times could be a crucial factor throughout this championship. If winds continue to blow in the afternoon throughout the weekend, we could see the eventual champion come from well behind.
What’s the biggest surprise in Round 1?
EVERILL: Seeing an albatross and an ace in the one day. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised as we’ve had albatrosses in each of the previous two PLAYERS also but Harris English’s 236-yard 3-iron on the par-5 11th was just brilliant. Then Ryan Moore decided to slam dunk an ace on the par-3 17th island green… magic stuff.
McCABE: Hard to ignore Vaughn Taylor, he of the 67. Eight straight missed-cuts in the May date PLAYERS (74.24 average). Yeah, move to March is OK with him.
MORFIT: Justin Rose hasn't excelled at TPC Sawgrass, but I didn't have him making a triple and a double in the first five holes and shooting 74. And I sensed a letdown, not a 67, coming from Rory McIlroy after all those near-misses this season.
TURSKY: Bradley's hot putter. Given Bradley's ball-striking prowess, if his putter can stay even mildly hot throughout the event, he could be the first to claim the new PLAYERS trophy.
McALLISTER: I agree with Andrew – it’s Bradley’s putting, if only from a statistical standpoint. Ranked 210th in Strokes Gained: Putting to 3rd in the field after the first round Thursday.
ROSS: McCabe and I are on the same wave length. Taylor finds himself back on the leaderboard after shooting 67 – which ties his career low at TPC Sawgrass. Why is that surprising? Taylor had missed his last eight cuts in THE PLAYERS (all in May) after tying for eighth in 2006 (in March).
Tiger shoots a 2-under 70. Use one word (and then explain it) to describe his position after 18 holes.
EVERILL: Eventful. We saw plenty of great putts and birdies. And some not so good ones and bogeys. Just one par on the back nine had the fans on the edge of their seats for sure.
McALLISTER: Grinding. It was a roller-coaster back nine (just one par) but one of those grind-it-out early rounds that Tiger has so often produced. Of course, the question is whether he can reach another gear this week.
McCABE: Disappointing. Played the par-5s poorly (pars at second and ninth, bad bogey at 11) and continues to struggle with his tee shot at the par-4 14th. Bogey at 18 had to spoil the taste of a sub-par day.
MORFIT: Encouraging. You could really see his new putting mechanics, especially as he stroked in that 13 1/2-foot birdie putt on 17. Rolling the rock is everything, and if he can make putts (and stay healthy) he's capable of anything.
ROSS: Lurking. Sure, he trails by five but there are three rounds remaining to close the gap. It’s the fifth time in 18 starts that Woods has shot 70 or better in the first round and you can never count him out.
TURSKY: Optimistic. After withdrawing from last week's event, there was a big question mark as to whether he could realistically compete to win in this event. Despite having a two-way miss all day, he fought hard to remain within earshot of the leaders. A low round in the morning wave tomorrow could put him in solid position to contend for his third PLAYERS title.
Which notable name has to be most pleased with his round … and which one has to be most disappointed?
EVERILL: Rory McIlroy. Of course, he has five top-6 finishes in his last five starts but the pressure of not converting them could have easily seen a letdown in the opening round at Sawgrass. Instead he’s just two back. Maybe Justin Thomas is steaming the most. He was looking great at 3 under with four holes to play but dropped three shots in a three-hole stretch. A closing birdie left him six back and sleeping a little angrier.
McALLISTER: Dustin Johnson, who doesn’t have the greatest track record here, shot a 69 – March seems to be agreeable to him. As for most disappointed? Justin Rose, whose 74 comes off of a 77—75 weekend at Bay Hill. Not a good sign.
McCABE: My guess is, bogey-free and 67 had Rory McIlroy feeling quite content, given that he had broken 70 just once in his last 13 rounds here. As for most disappointed, a watery double-bogey to wrap up a 76 earns Jordan Spieth that dubious distinction.
MORFIT: Dustin Johnson hasn't really played to his standards at THE PLAYERS in May and was hoping to turn over a new leaf in March. So far, so good with a 3-under 69. But Phil Mickelson also played in the calmer, softer morning conditions and scuffled to a 74. He's just not locked in right now.
ROSS: Prior to Thursday, Rory McIlroy hadn’t broken par at TPC Sawgrass in his last eight rounds. Not only did he get in red numbers, the man who has finished sixth or better in his last five starts is just two strokes off the lead. Jordan Spieth, though, continues to struggle, shooting 40 on the front nine and capping off a forgettable day with a very damp double bogey at the 18th hole.
TURSKY: Rory McIlroy, fresh off a lackluster Sunday performance at Bay Hill, has to be pleased with a 5-under 67 start to get right back on the first page of a leaderboard. Jordan Spieth, on the other hand, continues his season of disappointment with a less-than-inspiring 76. If Spieth was looking for a spark in a big event, he didn't find it in round 1 of THE PLAYERS.