Sergio Garcia used a late surge to shoot a 7-under 65 on Thursday and the Spaniard holds a two-shot lead after the first round of The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Brian Harman was alone in second place at 5 under, while a group of three at 4 under included England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, Canada’s Corey Conners and Ireland’s Shane Lowry when play was suspended due to darkness with 21 players still on the course.
Playing in the morning wave, Garcia started on the back nine at TPC Sawgrass and made the turn at 3 under thanks to an eagle on the par-5 16th. He offset a bogey on No. 1 with a birdie on the next hole and added two more birdies on Nos. 7 and 8.
Garcia then reached the par-5 ninth hole in two shots and rolled in his second eagle of the day.
“I just love it,” Garcia said of TPC Sawgrass. “I’ve always said it, Valderrama and this course are some of my top favorite ones and for some reason they just, it just kind of fits my eye.
“I see what I want to do pretty much every hole and then it’s a matter of doing it, but it definitely I feel more comfortable and I’ve done well. So all those things help.”
Harman, who opened his round at the first hole, had a rocky front nine with three bogeys and birdies at Nos. 2, 4 and 9. He then made three more birdies to start the back nine and had two more at Nos. 15 and 16.
“You know you’re going to have a stretch like that at some point to where the ball bounces into the wrong spot, you miss a putt, you just barely miss a fairway,” Harmon said of his slow start. .”.. That’s just part of the rub of this place. So I knew I was playing well. I prepared really well, I played really great in the practice round, so I figured if I could just stay patient.”
Fitzpatrick was poised to finish in a tie for second place before recording a three-putt bogey at No. 17. Conners, who opened his round on the back nine, had an eagle at the par-4 14th hole when he made his second shot from 153 yards and then finished his final eight holes at 2 under.
“Yeah, it was an awesome shot, obviously,” Conners said of the 14th hole. “I had a really good (yardage) for a 9-iron, just a perfect solid shot with that club. Just right at it the whole way. I hit it really solid, I knew it was going to be pretty good and it’s always a bonus to see it go in.”
Lowry also was poised to finish the day in a tie for second place before finding bunker at 18 and closing the day with a bogey.
Garcia is paired for the first two rounds with Rory McIlroy, whose opening-round 79 included a quadruple bogey on the 18th hole.
The defending champion made his turn in 7-over 43, tying the highest opening nine-hole score of his PGA Tour career. McIlroy also carded a 43 on the front nine in the first round of the Memorial in 2014.
“Very hard,” McIlroy said of trying to recover from his opening nine holes. “Especially when you’re trying to figure it out as you go along on course, right? You’re trying to figure it out but you still know you’re not really sure where the shots are coming.”
McIlroy was unable to defend his 2019 title when last year’s tournament was canceled following the opening round due to the coronavirus pandemic.
McIlroy was hardly the lone marquee player to struggle at TPC Sawgrass on Thursday.
Former Open champion Henrik Stenson shot a 13-over 85, Tony Finau a 6-over 78 and 2015 Players champion Rickie Fowler carded a 5-over 77.
South Korea’s Ben An shot an 11-over 83 after putting four balls in the water and carding an 11 on the par-3 17th hole. That’s still one shy of Bob Tway, who set the tournament record with a 12 on No. 17 in the third round in 2005.
An double-bogeyed the next hole and was 1 over for his other 16 holes Thursday.
Bryson DeChambeau, who won last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, was at 3 under Thursday and in a six-way tie for sixth place. Phil Mickelson, who won the 2007 Players Championship, shot 1 under and was in a tie for 26th place.
-Field Level Media