Early First-Round Notes – Thursday, May 11, 2017
Weather: Mostly sunny with a high of 91. Wind WSW 8-16 mph.
Early First-Round Leaderboard
William McGirt               67 (-5)
J.B. Holmes                  68 (-4)
Alex Noren                    68 (-4)
10 players                     69 (-3)
Morning wave notes:
The morning scoring average was 72.25.
Eight players went for the green on the par-4 No. 12 with only two hitting the green: Tony Finau and Derek Fathauer hit the green and both made birdie.
Alex Noren (68) posted the only bogey-free round in the morning wave. No player has gone all four rounds without a bogey at THE PLAYERS Championship. Greg Norman came the closest in 1994 with a single bogey in the final round on No. 13.
Two players hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation in the morning wave: Lucas Glover (70) and Patrick Cantlay (69).
William McGirt
William McGirt posted his best opening round at THE PLAYERS with a 5-under 67 Thursday to take the lead after the morning wave.
McGirt eagled Nos. 11 and 16, becoming only the 26th player to record two eagles in one round at THE PLAYERS and the sixth to do so on the back nine.
In four prior starts at TPC Sawgrass, McGirt’s only other sub-70 round was a 7-under 65 in the second round in 2016. In two previous made cuts, McGirt finished T43 both times, including his debut in 2013 and last year.
Should his lead hold, it would mark the fifth time McGirt has held the lead or a share of the lead after 18 holes. In four prior tries, he has failed to convert the opening round lead into a victory or top-five.
The 37-year-old is in search of his second PGA TOUR victory after winning the 2016 Memorial Tournament. In 15 starts this season, he has three top-10s and is 52nd in the FedExCup standings.
First-Round Lead Notes
Fourteen first-round leaders/co-leaders have gone on to win THE PLAYERS Championship, most recently Jason Day in 2016.
Two of the last three winners have opened with a tournament-record 63 en route to their win: Martin Kaymer (2014) and Jason Day (2016). Both won wire to wire.
Only four out of 25 first-round leaders/co-leaders (stroke play) have gone on to win in 2016-17 and not since Justin Thomas won the Sony Open in Hawaii in wire-to-wire fashion.
J.B. Holmes (T2)
J.B. Holmes posted a field-high seven birdies (tied with Kyle Stanley and Cody Gribble) to post a first-round 4-under 68. Holmes only hit three of 14 fairways in round one.
Holmes previously led THE PLAYERS Championship after 18 holes in 2010 when he opened with a 6-under 66, his lowest score in 33 rounds at TPC Sawgrass. He went on to finish T13 that year.
Holmes is making his 11th start in THE PLAYERS Championship where he has two top-10s: 2008 (T10) and 2011 (T6). Last year’s missed cut was one of four missed cuts at TPC Sawgrass.
Holmes opened last week’s Wells Fargo Championship and was one off the first-round lead. Ensuing rounds of 74-73-73 resulted in a T36.
Holmes’ one top-10 this season came at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, a T5 with partner Bubba Watson.
Alex Noren (T2)
Sweden’s Alex Noren posted the only bogey-free round of the morning wave, opening with a 4-under 68 in his tournament debut. Other than Jack Nicklaus, who won THE PLAYERS in its inaugural year in 1974, only Hal Sutton (1983) and Craig Perks (2002) have won the event in their first appearance.
Noren, who is No. 13 in the Official World Golf Ranking, is not a member of the PGA TOUR. At No. 9 in the Non-Member FedExCup standings, Noren has 206 points and is in need of 113 points as he attempts to earn Special Temporary Membership on the PGA TOUR.
Noren has eight international victories of which four came in 2016.
Noren, who was in contention in last week’s Wells Fargo Championship, has two top-10s on the PGA TOUR, most recently a T5 at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play.
Francesco Molinari  (T4)
Italy’s Francesco Molinari shot a 3-under 69 Thursday in his bid to join Craig Perks (2002) and Tim Clark (2010) as the only players in PGA TOUR history to earn their first career victory at THE PLAYERS.
Molinari has posted top-10s in back-to-back starts at TPC Sawgrass with a T7 in 2016 and T6 in 2014. Last year, he was inside the top 10 on the leaderboard after each round. In six career starts at THE PLAYERS, Molinari has three top-10s and three missed cuts.
At last week’s Wells Fargo Championship, Molinari held sole possession of the 18-hole lead and 36-hole for the first time in his career after opening with rounds of 66-72, but he faded to T24 with rounds of 72-75 on the weekend. In 99 career starts, Molinari has 14 top-10s but hasn’t finished inside the top three since a T3 at the 2015 Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide.
Patrick Cantlay (T4)
In his first start at THE PLAYERS, Patrick Cantlay was one of just two players in the morning wave to hit 17 of 18 greens on his way to an opening 3-under 69.
Cantlay began the season playing on a major medical extension but satisfied the requirements of that extension with a solo second-place finish at the Valspar Championship in March.
The 25-year-old has made the cut in all five starts this season and posted his second career top-five with a T3 at the RBC Heritage in April.
The former world No. 1 amateur enters the week at No. 43 in the FedExCup standings.
Additional Player Notes
Defending champion Jason Day played his first 14 holes (started on No. 10) at 5-under with no bogeys, before three bogeys in his last four holes to post a 2-under 70. No player has ever won back-to-back at THE PLAYERS Championship. Since THE PLAYERS Championship moved to TPC Sawgrass in 1982, the best opening round by a defending champion is 68 by Craig Perks in 2003.
Phil Mickelson opened with a 2-under 70. He has not recorded an opening round in the 60s since his win in 2007 and has missed the cut the last four straight years.
Bernhard Langer extended his tournament record for most birdies at No. 17 with his 26th birdie coming in today’s first round. Langer, who is the oldest player in the field at 59, is making his 26th career start in THE PLAYERS Championship. He also holds the record for longest putt made at No. 17 (59 feet, 9 inches) in round two of 2008.
Aaron Baddeley, who has the most total balls in the water at No. 17 since 2003 with 13, birdied 17 in the first round. Baddeley was 5-under through 15 holes before a triple bogey-7 at No. 7 en route to a 2-under 70. Baddeley has failed to make the cut the last five consecutive years.
David Toms (back) and Kevin Na (illness) withdrew during round one.
Past Champions
Nine players who have won THE PLAYERS are participating this week. Here’s a look at their first-round results:
Player                                    Year Won                  R1 Score
Jason Day                             2016                          70
Rickie Fowler                         2015                          70
Martin Kaymer                        2014                          Afternoon
Matt Kuchar                           2012                          Afternoon
K.J. Choi                                2011                          Afternoon
Henrik Stenson                      2009                          72
Sergio Garcia                         2008                          Afternoon
Phil Mickelson                        2007                          70
Adam Scott                           2004                          Afternoon