By the time I got tuned in to the Thursday edition of The 2014 Players Championship, all of the scores at the top of the leaderboard were in the clubhouse with Honda Classic champ, Russell Henley commanding a two-shot lead. Henley carded a -7 under par 65 at TPC Sawgrass and was two strokes up on a pack at -5 under that included Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood and more.
In fact, right after I started watching, 2013 Byron Nelson Champ, Sang Mood Bae was starting to make some noise of his own. Bae came out of the gate with birdie/eagle, and was at three under par after just two holes. The 27 year-old South Korean cooled a bit, but was able to beat the -5 under par log-jam from the morning session, and card a -6 under 66.
The big news of the day was Martin Kaymer. Starting on the back nine, Kaymer only put up two birdies, and made the turn at -2 under par. It was the front nine where the 29 year-old former number one player was able to both tie the course record 63, but set a new 9-hole record with a -7 under 29, and take a two-shot lead into the second round on Friday.
After winning the 2010 PGA Championship, Kaymer committed the ultimate sin, he decided to make some swing changes to add a draw to his game. He quickly fell in the world rankings, and coming into this week at the players, was ranked 61st.
“When you change, you have to think automatically,” he said. “You need to reflect and you want to improve, you want to get to the goal a lot earlier, and then sometimes you can get caught up in the thinking process. So you need to go back where you came from, and that’s just — it’s feel, it’s your natural shot. It’s the fade, so it is my shot, accept it.”
Sergio Garcia redeemed himself for the final-round meltdown last year by getting through the 17th and 18th holes at even par to join the -5 unders. If he could have done that in the Sunday finale’ in 2013, we may be talking about his second victory at Sawgrass instead of Tiger Woods’ second win.
Playing in his first competitive round since winning The Masters last month, Bubba Watson had a decent round on Friday. He was able to take advantage of his length to make an eagle at the 16th hole but a bogey at 18 got him in the clubhouse at -3 under par, six strokes back.
The big surprises on the day came from some big names with some big scores, in particular, world number two, Adam Scott. Scott had a horrible day, and was able to only card three birdies on a day when double bogey was the norm. If a double at 8 wasn’t enough, the big finish at 17 and 18 netted doubles as well. Scott finished his round at five over par, and will probably not play on the weekend.
Phil Mickelson, who is attempting to get his game in check for a run at the US Open next month fell on hard times again on Thursday. The five-time major champ opened with a three over par, carding only one birdie on his round. He didn’t play that badly, he just couldn’t make anything happen. Kind of like his 2014 season to date.