ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
AP photo by John Raoux / Sergio Garcia lines up a putt on the fifth hole at TPC Sawgrass during the first round of the The Players Championship on Thursday in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Garcia shot a 65 and had a two-shot lead over Brian Harman.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Sergio Garcia rushed to the first tee and raced to the finish line in the opening round of The Players Championship.

Most importantly, he avoided the kind of wreck that occurred with regularity across the rest of the field on Thursday, allowing TPC Sawgrass to live up to its reputation as the course where anything can happen to anyone at any time.

Garcia thought he had plenty of time to get from the practice range to the 10th hole to start his round. The sun was in his eyes when he looked at the clock, he wasn't sure what he saw, jogged the rest of the way and had a minute to spare. Then he fired off a 7-under-par 65, capped off by a birdie-birdie-eagle finish for a two-shot lead over Brian Harman.

It was a solid day that became brilliant over the final three holes.

Garcia only had to look next to him to see what kind of damage the Stadium Course inflicted, even on a pristine day of pleasant sunshine and a mild breeze.

Rory McIlroy, the reigning champion as the 2019 tournament winner — last year's event was canceled after the first round as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports — opened with a double bogey from the trees. He hit two in the water on the 18th and made a quadruple-bogey 8. That snowman contributed greatly to a 79, his worst score since his opening round in the 2019 British Open.

When darkness brought the first round to a halt — 21 players didn't finish — there already were 13 scores of 80 or higher. That included 2016 British Open champion Henrik Stenson with an 85, his highest score ever on the PGA Tour. There were 22 single-hole scores of triple bogey or worse.

The leader took eight shots to play his final three holes. Byeong Hun An needed 11 shots on the par-3 17th hole.

Garcia feels comfortable on a course that causes anxiety even in good weather.

"For some reason, it just kind of fits my eye," said the 41-year-old Spaniard, who won The Players Championship in 2008 and has twice been runner-up at the PGA Tour's premier event. "I see what I want to do pretty much every hole, and then it's a matter of doing it."

Harman, a 34-year-old former University of Georgia standout, played in the afternoon and was hanging around par until he began the back nine with three straight birdies, shot 31 on the back and wound up with a 67.

Ireland's Shane Lowry took bogey on his final hole for a 68 and was tied for third with Canada's Corey Conners and England's Matt Fitzpatrick. Big-hitting American star Bryson DeChambeau, coming off a victory Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, had to take a little off his driver on the par-5 16th and had 9-iron left, setting up a birdie-birdie-par finish to join the group at 69.

The small number of fans — by Sawgrass standards, anyway — saw a little bit of everything. It started early with McIlroy, who shot 43 on his opening nine holes.

"The big number on 18 didn't help, and then doubling the first wasn't helpful, either," he said. "It's hard to recover when you just haven't played good. If you take that 18th hole out, it still wasn't a very good day."

Stenson hit into the water on consecutive holes for a double bogey and a triple bogey. He put two more in the water, including one of 18 balls in the water on the famous island green 17th hole. Three of those belonged to Kevin Na, who made an 8 and then withdrew after signing for an 81.

Ian Poulter (77) sat for lunch with McIlroy, Stenson and Tyrrell Hatton (76), posting video of this fearsome foursome that combined to go 29 over.

"Oh, what a bunch of muppets," Poulter said.

Garcia's lone bogey came after perhaps his best shot. From the pine straw next to a tree left of the first fairway, he hooded an iron that came out low and right to left with enough run that it settled 25 feet away. And then he three-putted.

The most remarkable round might have belonged to Tom Hoge, who managed to get through 18 holes without a bogey and was part of the group tied for sixth.

"It was a good, solid day, kind of what you want here on the Stadium Course," Hoge said. "I haven't been hitting it that well coming in here, so I just tried to hit a lot of greens and stay out of trouble for the most part."

All three Baylor School graduates currently on the PGA Tour were set to compete, but Harris English wound up withdrawing late due to back problems. Keith Mitchell opened with a 76, and Luke List was among those who didn't finish — he was 3 over with three holes to go in his first round.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT