7-under-par 65 for Si Woo Kim, the best opening round score to par of his PGA Tour career.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) March 12, 2020
It was a wild day in sports, and the PGA Tour's Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass was not exempt. Looming over everything that happened in Round 1 was the decision to remove fans from the event for Rounds 2-4. As other leagues postponed or canceled events outright, it looks as if for now the PGA Tour will be the only American sport still playing this weekend. And if that's true, then we should be in for quite a few days.
Hideki Matsuyama tied the course record with his 9-under 63 early in the day, and it held up throughout as conditions got tougher in the afternoon and only one golfer who teed off late seriously threatened his 9-under lead. Here's a look at Matsuyama's day as well as the contenders who surround him heading into Round 2 on Friday.
1. Hideki Matsuyama (-9): The number you need to know here is that Matsuyama led the field with 4.2 strokes gained with his putter. That's an otherworldly number for anyone, and for somebody who's not a very good putter like Matsuyama, it's difficult to fathom. He won't stay there, but he's given himself a great cushion in that category and can allow his tee-to-green work to carry the day throughout the rest of the event.
T2. Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Harris English, Si Woo Kim (-7): Both English and Bezuidenhout finished in the top 20 at last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational, and while neither has the kind of staying power, I would wager anything on this week, their hot play continued on Thursday at TPC Sawgrass. Kim, on the other hand, has not been playing great golf. He has one made cut in his last eight tournaments so of course he would shoot a 65 in the afternoon, which was arguably the best round of the day given how much tougher the afternoon was at TPC Sawgrass. Of course.
T5. Patrick Cantlay, Marc Leishman (-5): The winner could very easily come out of this duo. I think Cantlay is going to be around until Sunday as he was 7th in the field from tee to green, and Leishman nearly won at the API last week. Very easy to envision both keeping this up over the next three rounds.
T7. Collin Morikawa, Webb Simpson, Viktor Hovland (-4): There are actually 15 players at 4 under after Round 1, but these were the ones that stood out. Hovland and Morikawa played in a group with fellow 20-something Matthew Wolff, and for most of the back nine that group was double-digit strokes up on the group behind them that included Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka. Morikawa
T22. Tyrrell Hatton, Matthew Wolff, Jon Rahm, Sungjae Im and 10 others (-3): Again, there are 14 players at this 3-under number, but these are the highlights. Rahm especially felt like he was saving his tournament when he played the back nine in 33. I don't know that there will be a tournament to save, but if they do play through the weekend, we might remember that 3-under back nine as the reason Rahm won this event.
T83. Rory McIlroy and 13 others (E): McIlroy was over par for 16 of his first 17 holes before finally pulling it into the house at even par. He doubled the 15th hole to go to 3 over for the day and looked like he was going to spin out sideways and shoot a 76 before closing birdie-birdie-birdie for the 72, where he at least theoretically remains in the tournament. He's nine back of the lead, but it's not infeasible -- given the kind of golf he's playing right now -- to envision him shooting 65 or 66 Friday morning to make things interesting going into Saturday. Nobody was paying attention, but that three-hole closing stretch was an important one.
Other stars didn't fare so well on Thursday. Tommy Fleetwood (+6), Jason Day (+4), Rickie Fowler (+4), Jordan Spieth (+3), Justin Rose (+3) and Patrick Reed (+1) were all over par and in danger of missing the cut.