On a rare day at TPC Sawgrass where the greens were soft, the wind was barely existent and the heat was causing the golf ball to soar longer than normal, the players with morning tee times at The Players Championship took advantage of the ideal scoring conditions.
Especially world no. 1 Jason Day, who shot a scorching nine-under 63 to tie the course record previously set by Fred Couples (1992), Greg Norman (1994), Roberto Castro (2013) and Martin Kaymer (2014). With the other half of the field still on the golf course, Day currently has a two-shot lead over a handful of players.
Day, who started on no. 10, didn’t waste any time, birdieing the first three holes before adding another on the famed par-3 17th to make the turn at four-under. He continued his hot run on the front nine with birdies on nos. 1, 2, 4, 7 and 9. He simply made it look easy on Thursday.
“The greens were very receptive out there,” said Day. “The temperature was hot, so the ball was going a long way, and when the ball goes a long way, you’re coming in with shorter clubs if you hit the fairways.
“And we thought the greens were sticking and a lot of guys could attack the pins that we had out there. But shooting 63 was great today and there’s a lot of guys at 7-under par right now and a lot of guys that are going off the afternoon tee time that can definitely shoot that score as well.”
Nice of Day to say that, but so far, the first page of the leaderboard is filled with guys who had morning tee times.
Day, who has become more of a student of the game recently under the influence of his friend and mentor Tiger Woods, was aware of the course record at TPC Sawgrass, and admitted it started to cross his mind on no. 7 (his 16th hole). After holing a 14-footer for birdie, he had to settle with par on the par-3 8th. But he still had the par-5 9th, which was potentially a good eagle opportunity since he could reach the green in two, except he chunked his 3-wood slightly and ended up in the front bunker. He almost holed out from the sand and tapped in for a birdie.
Day hit the ball beautifully, recording 15 of 18 greens in regulation — and he was on the fringe in the three that he “missed.” He wasn’t as perfect off the tee, though, finding only eight of 14 fairways. It was nearly a perfect round that felt almost effortless, especially at the unofficial “fifth major.”
“I can’t really recall the way that I hit the ball as well as I did today and then also putting as well as I did,” said Day. “I’ve shot scores lower, but I think from tee to green and then on the green and then being patient and everything kind of just clicked today and I shot a good score.”
Funny enough, the last competitive round Day recorded at TPC Sawgrass was an 81 in the second round en route to missing the cut at last year’s event. An 18-shot improvement — not too shabby.
“I just kept it out in front of me, and then when I got on the greens, the speed of my putts were just so great that I could just pick a line, and my green reading was great, as well,” said Day. “I just picked my line, hit my putt, and it was just going to go in, or around the hole. I just felt so good with the putter. But to shoot 81 and then 63 is a bit of a — 18 shots difference is a lot.
“But I feel like I’m a lot more prepared this year than I was last year, especially with how I was playing last year. I was playing pretty decent golf coming into this event, and I’m playing a lot better golf than I was last year.”
It’s still early, of course, with just the first round complete for Day. TPC Sawgrass will likely firm up with each day, but if it stays relatively soft, the low scores will keep on coming and expect to see more of Day.
“The way I was feeling, the way I was playing, I knew that I could shoot a good score, especially with how the greens were so receptive today,” he said. “They were really nice, holding on a lot of shots. That’s what made it a little bit easier coming out of the rough, as well, with — you’re coming out with a flier and these firm greens, there’s no way you can hold the greens, and then you’re chipping a lot more and trying to save par, and that makes it a little bit more difficult.
“But yeah, it’s round 1. I’ve got to try and focus on playing a solid round 2 and then after that round 3 and round 4 and just trying to keep pushing forward. That’s my main goal right now is try to get as much under par as I can.”
Yips? What yips? Ever since the debacle on the first hole of the opening round of the Masters last month, Ernie Els has putted pretty well. The week after Augusta National, he finished third in strokes gained putting at the RBC Heritage.
In the first round of The Players Championship, Els only needed only 24 putts en route to a six-under 66, which puts him currently at T7.
“I made some putts,” said Els. “Really, I made a putt on my very first hole from I guess 20 feet, and I made a few good putts. On 15, my sixth hole, I made at least a 30-footer there. It feels really good. You know, feeling good.”
Els picked up a “tip” early in the week of the Masters, which he’s obviously not utilizing anymore.
“A lot of people want to help you and get you better and so on,” he said. “It’s like a cliché. You ask all these guys, if I just did what I thought I should do, I’d be better off. But sometimes you listen, and it’s just — and it wasn’t like the guy was trying to harm me. He’s trying to get me better. It just didn’t work for me, and I unfortunately tried it on the world’s biggest stage. It kind of is what it is.”
He’s come a long ways in the past month with the flatstick.
“Since Augusta? Yeah, yeah. I mean, that was obviously — you want to forget about it as soon as you can,” said Els. “But it is what it is. But I feel comfortable, and I’ve been working hard since then on things that I have been doing, if it holds up. I feel good.”
Keep it going, Ernie.
And here’s this quote because it sums up how many players feel about Pete Dye, who designed TPC Sawgrass.
“I’ve got a love-hate relationship with Pete Dye,” said Els, smiling. “Me and Pete, we love each other sometimes, and I hate him sometimes.
“And at this course, yeah, this course has had its way with me. Nice to get one up on the course, and the conditions were great. But yeah, I loved it from the first time I played it, to be honest with you. But you’ve got to play it properly. You can’t just go out there and give it a go. I tried it on like two holes and I didn’t quite get into position and it cost me a bit. Yeah, the relationship, we’ll see how it continues.”
Quote of the day (so far) goes to Jordan Spieth, who didn’t have his best of days. Spieth double-bogeyed his last hole of the day, the par-5 9th, to shoot an even-par 72, which probably felt like he shot nearly 80 with the soft conditions.
Q. Can you kind of explain to us what happened on 9?
JORDAN SPIETH: I hit it seven times. Yeah, just — I hit two fantastic shots, and then not really sure after that.