Canadian rookie Mackenzie Hughes played bogey-free in his debut at the Players Championship and shot 5-under 67 to share the lead with William McGirt after an opening round that showed anew that the TPC Sawgrass has surprises around every corner.
No one knows that better than Adam Scott, the 2004 champion who had a 1-shot lead going into the par-3 17th hole.
First, he watched Masters champion Sergio Garcia salvage his poor round by making a hole-in-one at the infamous island green. Scott followed by spinning a shot off the bank and into the water for a double-bogey, and he compounded that with another double-bogey.
“I played some good golf out there and unfortunately not on the last two,” Scott said after settling for a 70. “It happens.”
At least he had company. Dustin Johnson’s first wedge of the day hit the pin, caromed off the green and led to bogey. On a day when nothing seemed to go his way, the world’s No. 1 player opened with a 71. Rory McIlroy went to tap in from 2 feet and missed, and then had make one twice as long for his double-bogey on the 10th hole. He shot 73.
Through it all, Hughes was rock solid. Only twice did he have par putts longer than 3 feet, and he made them both. The Players Stadium Course must be some kind of easy, eh? Hughes laughed and shook his head. “No. It’s very hard.”
McGirt played in the morning and made a pair of eagles on the back nine in his round of 67.
Among those at 68 was Jon Rahm, another first-timer at this lucrative event who had one of four bogey-free rounds on the steamy day in north Florida. Even with a mild wind in the afternoon, just over one-third of the field broke par.
Fast starts and bad finishes were the norm, and not just for Scott.
Defending champion Jason Day ran off two straight birdies after making the turn and was in the lead at 5 under, which for the former world No. 1 was a peculiar position. He hasn’t won since The Players last year. Day, however, made three bogeys over his last four holes and had to settle for a 70.
He was playing in the same group as Rickie Fowler, the 2015 champion who also got off to a fast start until one bad shot — a really bad shot — on his 15th hole at the par-4 seventh. From the middle of the fairway, Fowler blocked it so badly to the right that his ball hit a cart path and went deep into the pines. It took him two shots to get out and he made double-bogey. Fowler also shot 70.
Fowler managed to see the big picture.
“No one’s going crazy low or anything like that,” he said.
Garcia’s round was different. He made three bogeys and a double-bogey in his opening six holes and went out in 40, the first nine holes of competition he has played since winning the Masters a month ago. He felt nerves on the first tee when he was introduced as the Masters champion.
“The feeling was great,” he said. “I think I wasn’t quite in the tournament because of everything that’s been going on after the Masters win and media and people congratulating you left, right and center. I felt like I was a little bit up in the clouds, and when I woke up, I was 4 over after six.”
He managed a 73 with the eighth ace on the island-green 17th hole in Players Championship history and a tough par save on the 18th.
Johnson, who has three victories, a runner-up finish and third place in his past five starts, still has only two rounds in the 60s out of 27 attempts at the Stadium Course. He could accept this 71 just because of all that went wrong — the wedge that hit the pin on No. 1, birdie putts that spun around the holes at Nos. 2 and 12. Johnson rallied late with a 25-foot eagle putt on the 16th hole.
“It could have been really good today, but ended up just being OK,” Johnson said.
Phil Mickelson didn’t get in a practice round this week and still shot 70. Jordan Spieth opened with a 73, including a double-bogey on the first hole (his 10th) when he became so frustrated by a poorly raked bunker that he took a picture of it.
McGirt was among 13 players from the morning draw who shot in the 60s, but he was the only player to get as low as 6 under until he missed a short par putt on the final hole. Told that no one had made eagle on both par-5s on the back nine in the opening round, McGirt didn’t have an answer.
“Good numbers at a good time, made a good swing at a good time,” McGirt said. “You just kind of see the shot and hit the shot and see the putt and hit the putt.”
He made it sound simple, even though the Players Stadium Course can be anything but that.