Jason Day opened with a 63 during the 2016 Players Championship and never looked back for the first wire-to-wire win in 33 years at TPC Sawgrass.
Day was going low and thinking big again midway through Thursday’s first round.
“I was thinking actually seven, eight under after the second hole,” said Day, who began the day on the 10th hole.
Instead, Day began to go backward and ended his round with bogeys on three of his final four holes en route to a two-under-par round of 70.
It was a solid start for the former world No. 1, who has just one top-10 finish in 2017. It also was that kind of day at TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course.
Many of golf’s biggest names struggled to gain traction, much less maintain it.
Adam Scott, the 2004 Players champion, found the water on his final two holes and closed with consecutive double bogeys, falling from the solo lead at six under into a tie for 18th with Day and a host of players, including Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler.
“It’s hard to stay out of trouble all day,” Scott said. “Obviously there’s so much water here and there’s no real easy recovery from the water.”
Momentum was fleeting amid hot, dry weather, firm conditions and sporadic winds.
“It’s pretty hard out there,” Day said. “It’s only going to get firmer and faster.”
Journeyman William McGirt, a 38-year-old who cut his teeth on the Carolina mini tours, was able to keep it together better than most, but stumbled with a bogey on the par-four 18th hole — ranked the day’s toughest hole. Thanks to a pair of back-nine eagles, McGirt still ended the day tied at five-under 67 with PGA Tour rookie Mackenzie Hughes.
McGirt, the 2016 Memorial winner, contended last month at the Masters and looks to continue his strong play on tough tracks.
“It’s amazing what a little bit of confidence will do,” McGirt said. “The win last year was huge for my confidence ... kind of proved to myself that, hey, I can play golf at the major championship level.”
Hughes, a 26-year-old Canadian, was making his first start in golf’s “fifth major,” but was unflappable on his way to bogey-free 67, one of four rounds without a blemish. Alex Noren (68), Jon Rahm (68) and Lee Westwood (70) did not make bogey either.
Hughes tied for the lead Thursday in scrambling, converting all five of his up-and-down opportunities.
“To go bogey-free around this place, very difficult to do, obviously,” he said. “I started the day, I wouldn’t have expected a round like that. It wasn’t perfect golf, but I managed it really well and made a few nice saves when I needed to and made a few nice putts.
“It was good, a good day.”
Many top players watched good days go south quickly.
Beginning his day at the 10th hole, Fowler made the turn at four under. A double bogey on the par-four sixth left the 2015 Players winner three over during a three-hole stretch, but he did close with a birdie.
“Just had two holes get away from me,” said Fowler, who hit 11 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation.
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson was scrambling from the par-four opening hole, when his approach hit the flagstick and rolled off the green.
“I hit two perfect shots and I make a five on No. 1,” he said.
Johnson’s birdie putt spun out on the next hole, and again on the short par-four 12th. Despite his frustrations, Johnson salvaged a 71 with enough quality shots and some tremendous lag putts for par, including one from 88 feet on the par-four 15th.
“I just kind of hung in there,” he said. “I’m OK with the round. Obviously, it could have been really good today but ended up just being OK.”
Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy were both at one over, Spieth making a double bogey on No. 1, and McIlroy’s five birdies offset by doubles at No. 10 and No. 14.