McGirt grabs early lead at Sawgrass
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — William McGirt made a pair of eagles on the back nine to atone for mistakes that were inevitable for just about everyone Thursday in The Players Championship.
McGirt holed a 55-foot eagle putt on the par-5 11th, and then hit a 5-iron to 10 feet for eagle on the par-5 16th. A bogey on the final hole gave him a 5-under 67 on a steamy morning at the TPC Sawgrass, and a one-shot lead among the early starters.
Fast starts and tough finishes were the norm.
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 it 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.
Sergio Garcia was introduced on the first tee as the Masters champion when he teed off in the afternoon, then he had three bogeys and a double bogey on his opening six holes. Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy also played in the afternoon, which was getting hotter and drier as the course was getting even firmer and faster.
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.
Phil Mickelson didn’t bother playing a practice round because he’s been playing this course since 1992, the year before Jordan Spieth was born. Mickelson hit a 5-iron to about 6 feet for eagle on the 16th and made three birdies on the front nine, slowed only by a double bogey on the par-3 third by taking two shots to get out of a bunker. He shot 70.
Among those at 69 were Kyle Stanley, who birdied five of his first six holes and shot 38 on the back nine. At least he had a good start. Harris English never got anything going and wound up with an 84.
McGirt won the Memorial last year for his first PGA Tour title, and he went up to Muirfield Village on Tuesday to help promote the event. The timing could have been better, but then McGirt realized he had waited his entire career to win a PGA Tour event, and hanging around TPC Sawgrass all week wasn’t going to help his chances.
“I don’t need to play a practice round out here,” McGirt said. “I know what’s going to happen around this place. I feel like this is one of those places that every time I play, it only frustrates me more.”
Thursday was one of those exceptions.
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