Dustin Johnson, his world No. 1 ranking under siege, took advantage of ideal morning playing conditions to earn a six-way share of the first-round lead at the Players Championship on Thursday.
Joining Johnson atop the leaderboard at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, were fellow US Open victor Webb Simpson, Chesson Hadley, Matt Kuchar, Patrick Cantlay and in-form Swede Alex Noren. "I was surprised to be able to play, first of all, so that was more of the surprise, just to be able to tee it up".
Kim Si-woo, who became the youngest victor of the event previous year, made a bright start with a five-under 67.
The veteran was 51-year-old Steve Stricker, who still can't decide whether to hang his hat in the big leagues or the senior circuit. His best result in nine previous appearances was a tie for 12th past year, and that is his only finish in the top 20. Half of the putts he made were from the range he had been missing. He shot a 41 on his closing nine. Schwartzel never came close to bogey in his round of 6-under 66 on another day of warm weather and good scoring conditions at the TPC Sawgrass. "The greens were receptive, they're rolling ideal". That might be a little bit different tomorrow afternoon.
Simpson, who has four top-10s against just one missed cut this season, briefly held the clubhouse lead after his 66.
And, on his desire to stay world No 1 on Monday, he added: Every week I know there's a chance that someone can pass me. If I don't, someone's going to pass me, which is okay.
"It's definitely helped. It gives me a more definitive spot to aim at", he said of the new method, which involves using the soles of one's feet to discern the break.
"It was definitely a big deal to get there and it's a big deal to stay there".
India's Anirban Lahiri shot a solid 3-under 69 to be tied-27th The leaderboard was crowded with low scores as 14 others shot 4-under to be tied 13 and another dozen players, including, Lahiri, carded 3-under to be tied 27th. But it still requires you to hit the same kind of shots off the tees.
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"So obviously this week if I play really well I'll still be No. 1".
"It's going to be punishment one of these days for sure".
"I don't think pressure really gets to him, but maybe the expectation. It will be challenging for sure, I'm well aware of that".
Spieth hit into the water three times in his opening seven holes, leading to a pair of bogeys and double bogey.
"I feel like I got a good game plan around here", Johnson said. "I used to be just too aggressive and it didn't work".
"And I've done a good job of that in the times that I've played well here". I'll take anything in the 60s.
The 17-time PGA Tour victor has also seen his 15-month hold on the No. 1 ranking loosen considerably of late, even though his results have been good if not great. U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is another shot back, and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy is at 1 under along with Zach Johnson.
Woods had the best round with an even-par 72, but he was so frustrated with how he played much of the day, he fist-pumped a bogey on 18.