Nine takes: McIlroy, Spieth struggle, Day shines at Players Championship
Jason Day leads after tying a course record while Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth struggle during an easy first day at TPC Sawgrass.
We have one round of the 2016 Players Championship in the books, and Jason Day is your leader by two strokes. Scoring was easy (really easy) in the morning. Not so much in the afternoon. Let's look at nine things that caught my eye on Thursday at TPC Sawgrass.
1. When Jason Day is hot, it's almost impossible to catch him. We already looked at Day's record-tying 63 in some detail, but it's worth taking another look. Day tied the course record, jumped out to a two-stroke lead and is trying to add what would be the second-best win of his still very young career.
He's already on to the next one. "Round 2 is going to happen tomorrow so I've got to start focusing on that," Day said after his 63.
2. The good draw appears to be early-late. I'm not sure people realize how important the draw is at some of these tournaments. Every single player in the top six started before noon as well as 11 of the top 12.
According to Golf Channel, the course played nearly two shots more difficult in the afternoon. That's a big deal. Maybe the biggest surprise was how stunned players were at how easy the course was playing. Day was asked if he was surprised by all the low scoring.
"It doesn't surprise me at all," said Day. "I was just talking to someone coming in. The conditions are very hot so the ball is going forever. Guys can dial it back a little bit and not hit certain clubs or drivers or 3 woods. They can hit irons off the tees, give yourself a lot more opportunities coming in from the fairway. The greens are pure. They're so nice and they're rolling so perfect. It's kind of sad that they're going to rip the bloody greens up. I'm expecting it's going to be even better next year."
Other guys agreed.
-- Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) May 12, 2016
According to Justin Ray of Golf Channel, there were more 66s in the first round (12) than any other round in The Players Championship history. The early wave went low.
First-round scoring averages at last four PLAYERS:
-- Sean Martin (@PGATOURSMartin) May 12, 2016
3. Speaking of Justin Rose ... His struggle with the putter continues. If he puts at all over the next three days, he'll challenge Day for the win this weekend. He was top 10 in strokes gained tee to green on Thursday and not even in the top 30 in strokes gained putting (despite shooting a 7-under 65).He also hit all 18 greens in a round for just the second time in his career.
Last 4 #PGATour rounds for Justin Rose
20 approach shots inside 20 feet
Only 3 putts made over 10 feet
- Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) May 12, 2016
4. How close do you need to be after the first round? I went back and looked at the last 10 first rounds at this tournament. Here's how many strokes the eventual winners trailed by after 18 holes.
2015: Fowler (2)
2014: Kaymer (led by 2)
2013: Tiger Woods (4)
2012: Matt Kuchar (3)
2011: K.J. Choi (6)
2010: Tim Clark (3)
2009: Henrik Stenson (3)
2008 Sergio Garcia (led by 2)
2007: Phil Mickelson (tied for lead)
2006: Stephen Ames (6)
So only two outright winners went on to win. The average comeback of the seven who didn't share the lead was about 3.5 strokes. There are 30 players within six of the lead. Here are the top 12.
5. We need to talk about Rory McIlroy. Look, I respect Rory for setting himself up for the Sunday backdoor top 10 early on Thursday afternoon, but we need to do something about this. McIlroy averaged over 310 yards off the tee, hit 64 percent of fairways ... and somehow shot 72. How?
Well, we can start with the fact that he only hit 61 percent of greens in regulation which is abysmal for how far and accurately he strikes it off the tee. Again, McIlroy was affected more than some by the afternoon conditions.
Rory: "I don't know what those guys were doing this morning, but I don't think we saw the same golf course."
- Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) May 12, 2016
6. Rickie Fowler is probably not going to win this week. Fowler started pretty strong but made bogey at No. 14 and then a really bad double at the last hole. He also didn't take advantage of his 1,394th straight perfect tee shot on No. 17 (approximately).
-- PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 12, 2016
7. The Island Green wasn't tough, but nobody made an ace. It's been 13 years and counting since Miguel Angel Jimenez did it in 2002 that somebody has made an ace at No. 17. The pin was set up in the perfect location for it on Thursday. Alas, nothing.
From 1983 until today, there have been 14,343 tee shots at the 17th hole. Only six of 'em have gone in.
- Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelESPN) May 12, 2016
8. The top 10 in the world struggled. Other than Rose and Day, the Stadium Course was not kind to some of the world's best players (including Jordan Spieth, who shot 72 alongside Fowler). That's why the leaderboard is filled with names like Brendan Steele, Francesco Molinari and Hudson Swafford.
Jason Day and Justin Rose today: -16
Rest of the OWGR top 10: -1
- Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) May 12, 2016
What will be interesting is to see if that sorts itself out over the next three days or if it's just not a week for star power.
9. There was some fashion. I'm not sure if any of it was good, but there were some pretty interesting accessories worn by some of the best golfers in the world on Thursday. A sampling.
After the round, Rory McIlroy joked that he wanted to walk onto first tee with his "joggers" pulled up. Like this: pic.twitter.com/wmXj6Nq7ne
- Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelESPN) May 12, 2016
We could be on our way to a fun finish on Sunday in the final round in Jackson
Weather wreaked havoc on Friday in Jackson, causing second round play to spill into Saturday
Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry will be there, too -- in a non-competing role
He co-leads with Danny Willett after two rounds
The 30-year-old from North Carolina had it rolling on Thursday in Mississippi
These four global stars (and superstars) will square off at the end of October