PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – A few observations from Thursday’s opening round at THE PLAYERS Championship, in which Jason Day leads by two shots while tying the course record with a 63.
LOWRY TURNS MELTDOWN INTO RECORD. Shane Lowry was moping around TPC Sawgrass during practice rounds earlier this week. Then the Irishman got a simple tip that put him in THE PLAYERS record book alongside Day.
Even though Lowry’s 7-under-par, back-nine 29 – the lowest on that nine in PLAYERS history – played second fiddle to Day’s 63, Lowry was still astounded at his nine holes of work.
“I had no real confidence coming here,” said Lowry, who finished with a 65. “… I kind of had a meltdown middle-of-the-back in practice (Wednesday). … I almost wasn’t looking forward to the week.
“I was losing the head. I was like almost thinking, ‘What’s the point being here?’ because I felt like I was playing poorly and I was struggling on the greens.”
During that “meltdown,” fellow Irishman Graeme McDowell offered a tip to help his putting. “I was getting a little over the ball, a little too close,” Lowry said. “He told just me to move an inch away from where it is and see how it feels then. And for some reason it just felt like it was easier to see my lines.”
Lowry made five birdies and an eagle during the back nine, hitting eight greens in regulation and needing just 11 putts (he chipped in for eagle at the 11th).
The only other 29 shot at the Stadium Course came in 2014 on the front nine by Martin Kaymer. He did it in the first round and ended up winning that week – a scenario Lowry wouldn’t mind seeing again this week.
EVEN PAR DOESN’T DISCOURAGE SPIETH. Jordan Spieth’s first start since the Masters had its moments but ended poorly. Starting his round on the 10th tee, he was 3-under through 13 holes after making consecutive birdies on holes 2, 3 and 4. But he followed with a couple of bogeys, bounced back with a birdie, then finished with a double bogey on the ninth after his shot out of the greenside bunker found the rough.
“I’m hitting the ball great, which is really what I’ve been working on the last couple weeks, trying to get more consistent and better ball striking,” Spieth said. “I feel as comfortable over the ball and driving it the best I’ve driven it the whole year.”
As for the finishing hole?
“I hit two fantastic shots and then not really sure after that,” Spieth said.
A PERFECT 18 FOR ROSE. Justin Rose hit all 18 greens in regulation Thursday, thanks in large part to a game plan he and caddie Mark Fulcher devised earlier this week. They decided to play TPC Sawgrass more strategically than previous years, and the end result was a 7-under 65.
“Although we were chasing birdies,” Rose said, “we were still respecting certain pin placements.”
Meanwhile a new TaylorMade putter that Rose had ordered a few weeks ago arrived this week, and he put it immediately into his bag. Rose made all four of his putts between 7 and 10 feet, and also rolled in a 17-footer for birdie on No. 1.
Said Rose about his new putter: “Sometimes it’s nice to look at something different.”
LAST MAN IN FIELD SHOOTS 69. When Aaron Baddeley was a PGA Tour rookie in 2003, he was the first alternate at THE PLAYERS and stood on the range “begging to get in because I was playing so well,” he said. Unfortunately, he didn’t.
This week, Baddeley, 35, was the first alternate again. This time his luck was better. Webb Simpson withdrew on Tuesday, opening up a spot for Baddeley as the first alternate.
“This is a tough place to get in as an alternate; guys will play in this tournament with one arm,” said John Limanti, Baddeley’s caddie.
Baddeley took advantage with a 3-under 69, although the sting of a double bogey and bogey in his final three holes cost him a spot near the lead. Still, he’s in the midst of a bit of a resurgence. Playing out of the Past Champion category, he has recorded four top-10 finishes this season, his most since 2011. Working with new instructor Scott Hamilton has brought a new outlook on his game.
“My bad golf is so much better,” Baddeley said. “Used to be I played average and I would miss the cut by five. Now when I’m average I can be in the top 20.”
NO REST FOR TRINGALE.Cameron Tringale is playing a PGA Tour event for the fourth consecutive week. Most players try to avoid that kind of schedule, but Tringale has embraced it. He thinks the 65 he shot Thursday reflects the heavy workload.
“It didn’t feel as big to me because it’s my fourth week in a row,” Tringale said. “I’m kind of in that playing grind, and it’s actually how our team had planned it to be. As normal as we can make this event the better.”
GOOD VIBES WORKING FOR HAAS. With his father, Jay, and mother, Jan, in the gallery on Thursday, Bill Haas continued his success on the Stadium Course.
Haas’s 7-under-par 65 on Thursday was his career-best round and the third round in the 60s in his last five at TPC Sawgrass. He finished T4, one stroke out of a Rickie Fowler-Kevin Kisner-Sergio Garcia playoff, last year.
“Any time you have a good week, you build on that the next year,” Haas, 33, said. “Certainly, I felt those vibes today.”