PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Carnage played through at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass during Thursday’s opening round of the Players Championship.
Ben An took an octuple-bogey 11 on the par-3 17th when his first four shots didn’t find the island green. Kevin Na hit three balls into the water on 17 for an 8 and withdrew with a bad back. Defending champion Rory McIlroy hit two balls into the water on the par-4 18th and made an 8 en route to a 79.
Henrik Stenson, who won the 2009 Players, made two double bogeys and two triple bogeys and signed for an 85. Tony Finau came home with a 78, Rickie Fowler a 77, Xander Schauffele a 76.
Somehow, Sergio Garcia didn’t make a number above 5, canned two eagles and took the lead with a 7-under-par 65 to jump out to a two-shot lead. While his performance caught the eye of many, it came of no surprise. Garcia won here in 2008, finished second in 2007, tied for second in 2015 and was third in 2014.
“I just love it. I’ve always said it, Valderrama (in Spain) and this course are some of my top favorite ones and for some reason they just, it just kind of fits my eye,” Garcia said. “I see what I want to do pretty much every hole and then it’s a matter of doing it, but definitely I feel more comfortable and I’ve done well.
“So all those things help.”
In 76 career rounds at TPC Sawgrass, @TheSergioGarcia is 33-under on the 9th hole.
He ends on an eagle and leads by two. pic.twitter.com/KXaNTZSRDo
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 11, 2021
Among those who had completed their round before play was halted due to darkness, Garcia led Brian Harman by two shots. Harman birdied six of his last 10 holes. At 68 were Matt Fitzpatrick, Corey Conners and reigning Open Championship winner Shane Lowry. Among the four players at 69 was reigning U.S. Open winner Bryson DeChambeau, who won last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Garcia almost didn’t get to start his excellent journey around Pete Dye’s creation. Garcia had to hustle to the 10th tee to make his starting time of 7:40 a.m. ET.
“I thought I had plenty of time. Obviously I left the range at 7:35, so I figured it’s going to take me probably two, three minutes at most to get to 10,” Garcia said.
It took longer than that and he had to jog the last 50 yards or so while playing partners McIlroy and Webb Simpson were laughing. Garcia made it by 7:39 a.m.
McIlroy, however, never really got going. He doubled the opening hole, made his snowman on the 18th and three other bogeys after the turn. On Sunday after posting a 76 in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational to drop into a tie for 10th, McIlroy said he was looking for a spark to end his winless stretch that dates to the fall of 2019.
What he needs is a break. He’s played seven of the last eight weeks; he’s definitely not playing next week. And likely not playing the weekend.
“I just think it’s hard to recover when you just haven’t played good,” he said. “I mean, regardless if you take that 18th hole out, it still wasn’t a very good day.”
After giving his take on his play, which is the first anniversary of the PGA Tour’s shutdown last year due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, Garcia talked about his unfortunate day when he tested positive and was forced to miss the November Masters. The 2017 winner of the green jacket withdrawal from the tournament ended a string of 84 consecutive starts in majors.
“It was disappointing, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “But you know that that can happen. That’s why if you didn’t want to take the risk, then you would stay at home and not leave. So it was unfortunate.”
Garcia will alter his travel plans before this year’s Masters and will not play the week before heading to Magnolia Lane. And he will be extra careful leading into the first major of the year.
“We have fans back, so you know that at any time you might get it from any one of them. Not that they’re trying to give it to you or anything like that, but it might happen,” he said. “I would love to get closer to the fans, but there’s too much at risk, at stake for us.”
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/03/11/pga-tour-sergio-garcia-leads-players-championship/