Round 1 review: THE PLAYERS Championship
March 14, 2019
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Tommy Fleetwood, Keegan Bradley tied for the lead at THE PLAYERS
A quick look at Thursday's (almost completed) first round of THE PLAYERS Championship.
Keegan Bradley and Tommy Fleetwood at the top of the leaderboard. Hmm, that sounds familiar.
It was less than a week ago that the two entered the weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard Bay as the co-leaders. The third round at Bay Hill, however, was not kind to either one. Bradley shot a 75, Fleetwood shot a 76, and they tumbled down the leaderboard.
Fleetwood would rally on Sunday to tie for third, while Bradley went the other way, shooting 78 to finish T-46. Ultimately, it was a lost opportunity for both players – but as they showed in Thursday’s first round at the Stadium Course, neither one had trouble bouncing back.
Fleetwood shot a bogey-free 7-under 65 in the morning wave, and Bradley was the only player teeing off in the afternoon to match it. It’s the lowest score either player has ever shot at TPC Sawgrass.
“It was just one of those rounds where me and Keegan were both struggling and it just got the wrong side of things,” Fleetwood said about last Saturday. “… It’s difficult putting four rounds of golf together.”
Bradley said he was “bummed out” about the weekend but opted to focus on the positives.
“I just felt great today, and I felt great last week and didn't shoot the numbers I wanted to on the weekend,” said Bradley, who entered this week ranked 210th in Strokes Gained: Putting but ranked third in the field on Thursday. “But I can take a lot away from last week.”
Obviously it’s early, but both players are in form. Both also showed last year that they can thrive at TPC Sawgrass. In fact, each one was among the four players who tied for seventh.
“If you like golf, you should like this golf course, really,” Fleetwood said. “It’s just about as fair as you’re going to get a test. If you hit it well like I did today, you’re going to have chances and you can shoot a score, and people are shooting scores. But you can also get it the other way. As soon as you start struggling and start going the other way, it can easily go against you.”
Fleetwood and Bradley experienced both directions last week at Bay Hill. They’re hoping to avoid putting it in reverse at TPC Sawgrass.
ODDS AND ENDS
Three feet, 11 inches. That’s the distance left before the first round is officially complete. Anirban Lahiri has that par putt left at the 18th hole after deciding not to attempt it late Thursday with darkness looming at TPC Sawgrass. At 2 under on his round and having never made the cut at THE PLAYERS, Lahiri wants to give himself every chance this week. He’ll resume play at 9 a.m. ET
Vaughn Taylor is clearly a March Guy. His best PLAYERS finish was a T-8 in 2006 and then he missed the cut all eight times he played in May. On Thursday, he fired a 67 to match his low round on the Stadium Course. “I was always thinking about, man, I liked it before we moved it,” said Taylor, who has a pair of top-10s this season. “But just in May it gets so it gets really yellow right out there and the greens are just crusty, and the course is dried out. They can get it that way this week as well but there's a little bit of ryegrass to keep it somewhat tame.”
Rory McIlroy generally abstains from driver on the 391-yard par-4 fourth because of the roll-out and water bisecting the fairway, but with receptive conditions after the move to March, he opted for driver Thursday. “The ball hits on the fairway … and it’s staying within 10 yards of its pitch mark,” said McIlroy, one of many players making their first March start at THE PLAYERS. “I definitely like the golf course the way it is in March.”
Charles Howell III was in the fairway bunker at the par-4 fourth, 111 yards from the pin. His next swing with a 52-degree wedge rolled in for eagle. “Holing out from a fairway bunker on that hole, no, that will never happen again,” Howell said after his 3-under 69. “I used that up, so that’s done.”
Brian Harman tied for sixth last June at the Travelers Championship. Since then? In 18 starts, his best finish is a T-32 (at The RSM Classic) and he’s missed the cut in five of his seven starts since the calendar flipped to 2019. “Sometimes you just wear the dunce cap,” Harman said. “I’ve been wearing it for about six months.” He wasn’t wearing it Thursday, though, making seven birdies and hitting 11 of 14 fairways en route to a 66.
The field is now down to 142 players. J.J. Spaun withdrew after the first round (no reason was given). Wyndham Clark was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard (he signed for a 4, but made a 5 on hole No. 4).
RORY McILROY (67) -- His bogey-free round was his second-lowest opening round in 10 PLAYERS starts (opened with a 66 in 2013).
DUSTIN JOHNSON (69) -- Put together an efficient round despite playing the par 5s in even par. "All in all, it was a really good day," DJ said.
SERGIO GARCIA (69) -- Another solid opening round at TPC Sawgrass was highlighted by a birdie putt at No. 1 from 52 feet, 3 inches -- his longest made putt of the season.
TIGER WOODS (70) -- A wild ride on the back nine, with five birdies and three bogeys -- the last one coming at the 18th when he missed a par putt from 4 feet.
WEBB SIMPSON (70) -- A year after opening with a 66, the defending champ was solid; his only glitch came on the par-4 14th when he struggled with the greenside rough.
BRYSON DeCHAMBEAU (70) -- A solid round was marred by a double bogey on the 18th hole (his ninth of the day) when his approach shot from 197 yards landed in the water.
XANDER SCHAUFFELE (70) -- The current FedExCup leader was 3 under through five holes and hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation.
JASON DAY (70) -- Hit 15 of 18 greens but his putter was cold -- just one made putt outside 5 feet.
JUSTIN THOMAS (71) -- A roller-coaster start, as he opened with three straight birdies, then back-to-back bogeys, then another birdie. Suffered a late double at the par-4 sixth when he found the water off the tee.
BROOKS KOEPKA (72) -- Struggled on the front nine, but brought it back with four birdies on the back -- although a bogey at the 18th won't sit well overnight.
FRANCESCO MOLINARI (72) -- Last week's winner at Bay Hill failed to find a hot hand and didn't make any putts outside 6 feet.
PHIL MICKELSON (74) -- Was 2 under through 11 holes until his round unraveled when he four-putted from 25 feet for a triple bogey at the par-3 third.
JUSTIN ROSE (74) -- Went out (off 10th tee) with nine straight pars. Coming back was a bit messy -- a triple at No. 1 and a double at No. 5 mixed in with three birdies.
RICKIE FOWLER (74) -- The 2015 champ opened with a 74 for the second straight year; he missed the cut last year.
JORDAN SPIETH (76) -- Two double bogeys, 30 putts needed, just 5 of 14 fairways -- not a pretty day.
Ryan Moore aces No. 17 in Round 1 at THE PLAYERS
Harris English holes out for albatross at THE PLAYERS
THEY SAID ITCouldn't have a more amazing hole to have an ace on, obviously one of the most iconic holes in golf.
BY THE NUMBERS
5 – Albatrosses in PLAYERS history, the latest coming Thursday when Harris English holed his second shot from 236 yards at the par-5 11th. It’s the third consecutive year that an albatross has been recorded at TPC Sawgrass.
23 - Total eagles made Thursday. The most in a single day at THE PLAYERS is 27 ... last year in the second round.
857 – Tee shots struck at the 17th hole in between Sergio Garcia’s ace in 2017 and Ryan Moore’s ace on Thursday.
STROKES GAINED LEADERS: Off-the-tee (John Huh, 1.900); Tee-to-Green (Byeong Hun An, 6.074); Approach-the-Green (Jason Dufner, 3.421); Around-the-Green (Byeong Hun An, 2.392); Putting (Brice Garnett, 5.175); Total (Keegan Bradley/Tommy Fleetwood, 6.806).
LONGEST DRIVE: Cameron Champ, 376 yards, 7th hole
LONGEST PUTT: Andrew Putnam, 55 feet, 9 inches, 9th hole
LONGEST HOLE-OUT: Harris English, 236 yards for an albatross, 11th hole.
MOST BIRDIES: 7 – Byeong Hun An (66), Abraham Ancer (69), Tommy Fleetwood (65), Brandon Harkins (69), Brian Harman (66).
BOGEY-FREE ROUNDS: Tommy Fleetwood (65), Haotong Li (69), Rory McIlroy (67), Rory Sabbatini (68), Kyle Stanley (68), Vaughn Taylor (67).
HARDEST HOLE: Par-4 5th. Played to 4.427 with just five birdies, 46 bogeys and 10 double bogeys.