Defending Masters champ Scottie Scheffler, No. 1 in the world, Jon Rahm, and fan favorite, Jordan Spieth, are all in contention at The Players Championship. Yet, not one of them, while enormously popular, is in the lead.
That honor goes to lesser-known Chad Ramey, whose sole victory is the 2022 Corales Puntacana Championship. You’re forgiven for not knowing who he is. He hasn’t been living on leaderboards in recent months or years.
He falls into the category of “unknown leads major” which is rather traditional when majors are being played. Since the folks in Ponte Vedra at the PGA Tour and many residents like to view this as a major, it applies.
The real leader, meaning the guy on the leaderboard who has the best resume at the top, is Collin Morikawa. He doesn’t hit the ball the farthest. He’s not the leader in scoring. He’s not a front-runner in greens in regulation. And yet, of the top 20 players we’ve heard so much about recently, he’s currently one back, at 7-under par.
After his round, he said it could have been lower. He was close with putts on the 8th and 9th, and he lipped out one on the 7th and was asked if it was difficult to finish that way.
“There’s no sour taste. Sometimes they drop and sometimes they don’t, especially when rounds are going like that,” Morikawa explained.
His 65 is two off the course record of 63 shot by nine players, starting in 1992 when Fred Couples posted it on the way to a victory at the Masters about a month later.
"“Even though they say it’s an approach-shot golf course, you have to be in the fairway out here.” – Collin Morikawa on TPC Sawgrass."
Collin Morikawa plays TPC Sawgrass like he has respect for the Dye design.
"“It’s a course you really can’t get away with anything,” he explained. “You have to hit it well off the tee. Obviously, you have to hit some good approach shots. But if you’re hitting it well off the tee, you’re going to give yourself some birdie opportunities.”"
The key to his round, which started on the 10th hole, was that he mostly stayed out of trouble, which is essential at TPC Sawgrass where one mistake is likely to turn into two or three.
Despite his score, Collin Morikawa was not error-free. He hit into the rough four times on his first nine and once on the second nine. His score of 31, on what is the front nine of the golf course, was his back nine. He made it by posting an eagle on the 2nd, and birdies at the 1st, 4th, and 6th holes. He also birdied the 15th and 16th holes.
Collin Morikawa attributed his success to being in the middle of the fairway a lot.
"“I was able to get myself close enough to have a good putt at it and have a good look. I think that’s where it starts,” he said. “Even though they say it’s an approach-shot golf course, you have to be in the fairway out here.”"
He said he was also just plain lucky a few times in round one.
“The ones ( fairways) I did miss, I was in the bunker or the pine straw or first cut. So I got away with a few,” he explained.
He detailed his eagle on the par five 2nd hole. It was set up by a drive in the fairway. From there, he hit a 4-iron.
“It was a nice draw through it off the tee, hit it really, really flush,” Morikawa said.
"“JJ and I were kind of going back in between 5-iron and 4-iron. Hit a little spinny, cut 4-iron, mis-hit it a little bit over the toe but landed exactly where we wanted, and it was nice for it to roll out where it did and not roll out over.”"
He added that when he hits it as close as that one was, he always hopes to make the putt. Shotlink had him at 3 feet, 4 inches for the eagle. No doubt he would have been upset had he missed it.
“It was a nice way to make the turn, birdie, eagle, to start the back nine,” he added.
Will he be able to post another score of 5-, 6- or 7-under par in round two?
It’s funny how hard that is to do, but perhaps this year, with the course soft, according to many players, and the wind modest, he will be able to approach Greg Norman’s record of 24-under par.
He’s almost one-third of the way there.