THE PLAYERS: potpourri of names top crowded leaderboard

Adam Scott. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Adam Scott. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports /

THE PLAYERS Championship round was packed with action on and around TPC Sawgrass, from a swamp fire to an ace on the 17th!

At THE PLAYERS, there was smoke.  It could have been from the fiery course conditions, or the ire of the golfers who were playing TPC Sawgrass. But in this instance, it was actually a real fire in the Okfenokee Swamp, just over the Florida-Georgia line.

If you were trying to flavor beef or pork or chicken, it would have been a good thing.  But for a golf tournament, not so much. Everyone on the course is now wearing eau de barbeque, the new fragrance of the week.

The heat combined with 22 percent humidity dried out the course as the day wore on, making TPC Sawgrass play firm and fast, exaggerating bad bounces. Scoring was difficult for everybody but William McGirt.

After the morning wave of players, William McGirt, riding two eagles, emerged at the top.  In the afternoon play, only Adam Scott and Rafa Cabrera Bello made charges up the leaderboard, and by 6 p.m. Adam Scott had taken over the top spot and after he hit his tee shot at the 17th , twenty minutes later, he lost it. Then it got worse when he hit his second shot into the water at the 18th. Such are the vagaries of golf at TPC Sawgrass.

Many favorites gave it a shot at THE PLAYERS but were not able to score as well. Player comments from their post-round interviews reflect a range of feelings about TPC Sawgrass.

Phil Mickelson, a former champ, did not even play a practice round, citing the heat and the fact that he’d been here 25 years in a row. Also, he was looking for a better result than he has had lately.

"I’ve not finished the tournaments off strong, and so I want to make sure that I’m rested going in."

He said he is minimizing the outside activities so that he’s a little sharper for the four tournament days.  His up-and-down round included five birdies and an eagle, but he posted 2-under for the round, three behind the leader William McGirt.

Defending champ Jason Day was 4-under for a while, but slid to 2-under by the end of his round.  He hit a 4-iron to on the 12th tee. “It’s a terrible pin to go after,” he said.  He did make par.

Some of the experts’ picks fared well in the first round at THE PLAYERS. Others did not.

The Experts’ Picks

Golf Channel analyst Frank Nobilo picked Jordan Spieth, who ended the day at 1-over par. Unfortunately, Spieth explained, he seemed to have reconnected with his right miss.

"I just didn’t have control of the golf ball off the tee. I hit four fairways, and honestly to be at 1-over with four fairways is actually somewhat strong out here."

Spieth’s goal is to get the ball in play and make a run on the weekend.

“The game, I thought, going into this round, I felt as good as I felt this entire year,” he said, adding that his practice had shown him phenomenal results.  He was unable to take it to the course and resolved to head to the range to work out the kinks before the second round.

David Duval on Golf Channel went with Sergio Garcia who shot 40 on his front nine but aced the 17th.  His ball landed less than a foot from the hole and backed into it, changing his score from 3-over to 1-over.

The ace aside, Garcia didn’t feel particularly good about his round.

"I just didn’t have control of the golf ball off the tee,” he said. “I hit four fairways, and honestly to be at 1-over with four fairways is actually somewhat strong out here."

Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee and ProGolfNow’s Elizabeth Bethel chose Jon Rahm, and their pick is looking better with Rahm currently at 4-under par. Rahm hit a 9-iron for his second shot on the 16th. Unheard of.

My pick, Dustin Johnson, eagled the 16th to get to 1-under. As advertised, he went with an iron off the12th tee, and his wedge landed just over nine feet from the pin, but he did not convert the birdie.

Managing the Renovated 12th Hole

The new 12th hole was embraced by some, not by others.  Kevin Na, for instance withdrew there.  Eight players went for the green, with Tony Finau and Derek Fathauer taking the chance and making birdie.  So that means it’s a low percentage choice with today’s pin position.

Long hitting J.B .Holmes said he was not considering going for the green at the 12th, given the pin placement.

"It’s just not a go-for-it hole right now. The way it’s designed you can hit a good shot in the middle of the green and roll in the water, so there’s too much risk for not enough reward."

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Holmes predicted mostly lay ups. David Lingmerth, who finished 3-under, agreed, but added many people will do otherwise.

"I feel like it’s lots of guys have the approach, I think, that they’re going to go for it and even if they hit it in the water, they can still get it up-and-down and make a par, and they’re fine with that."

Lingmerth added that he’s going to wedge it in and give himself three more  good looks at birdie.

Francesco Molinari, who finished at 3-under, tied with Lingmerth, laid up.

"I hit a 4-iron. I think the way the contour is of the front of the green, it makes it really tough because you almost have to hit a fade to have the ball stay on the green."

Imagine his Italian accent when you read that. Draws, he added, will head toward the water.  Right, he added, is a tough up-and-down. So for Molinari, it’s a safety first, lay-it-up plan.

Patrick Cantlay said he determined in his practice round that the Thursday hole location was no good for a wedge.

"I figure you either knock it on the green or up there close and have an easy birdie, or if you hit it where I did over to the right, you just try and make a par."

When asked if that meant he was committing to hitting driver all four rounds, he answered, “I’m not committed to anything pre me getting there.”

He said he was disappointed not to make birdie at the 12th.

With the evening drawing near, William McGirt’s score of 5-under par is still leading, but he’s now tied with Mackenzie Hughes.

Next: Jon Rahm's hot start at THE PLAYERS

One can only imagine what Friday will bring at TPC Sawgrass, but ProGolfNow’s writers will be bringing it all to you as it happens.