Four Tied Atop Players Day 1 Leaderboard
For all the focus on Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods, and Rory McIlroy, none of them claimed a spot at the top of the leader board after 18 holes at The PLAYERS Championship on Thursday.
That honor went to a pair of Americans – Charley Hoffman and Kevin Na – a Japanese sensation named Hideki Matsuyama, and unassuming Canadian David Hearn, all of whom fired 5-under 67s.
The 23-year-old Matsuyama, who has racked up more than $2.3 million in prize money already this year, bogeyed No. 1 then fired back with six birdies to reach his number.
The 35-year-old Hearn finished sixth at the Zurich Classic two weeks ago. He shot an eagle on the par-5 No. 11, but gave half of it back with a bogey on 14.
Na, who came in 12th at the Masters and shot a second-round 66 there, made his mark with a birdie 2 on the infamous Island Green No. 17 while Hoffman had the craziest round of the quartet, triple-bogeying No. 1 with a 7, then rattling off eight birdies over the next 15 holes, including four straight between No. 9 and 12.
Six players, including 2014 FedExCup champion Billy Horschel, are a stroke back at 4-under, and another 13 are at 3-under, a gathering that includes McIlroy, Jason Day, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, and Rickie Fowler.
Fresh off his grueling Match Play victory last Sunday, McIlroy was golden on the back nine with a birdie on 15 and an eagle on 16, but bogeyed No. 1. In the past three years he has gone 11-over on the front nine at The Players and 30-under on the back nine.
Woods, a three-time champion at this tournament, finished at 1-over, tied for 77th with the likes of Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner. It was a rollercoaster round for Woods, who had a pair of double bogeyes, two bogeys, and four birdies, including at No. 17.
Mickelson looked solid, at 1-under through 17 before double bogeying 18. Even less impressive was Masters champion, who shot a 3-over 75 and went back-to-back with bogeys twice.