PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Former PGA champion Martin Kaymer finished with four straight birdies to tie the course record with a 9-under 63 in the first round of The Players Championship on Thursday.
The 29-year-old German, who holds a two-shot lead over former University of Georgia golfer Russell Henley, is the fourth player to shoot 63 at the TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course.
Perfect scoring conditions and a softer course at TPC Sawgrass led to low scores all day. Henley shot 7-under 65 in the morning and had the lead for about five hours until Kaymer's closing birdie binge.
"I felt really comfortable on the greens today," Henley said. "I made some good par saves that kept my round going, kept it smooth. As long as I keep feeling comfortable with the putter, I think I can putt well on these greens. Hopefully I can do that for the next three days."
Sang-Moon Bae of South Korea sits in third at 6-under 66, and eight players, including Lee Westwood, Gary Woodland, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia, finished at -5.
"It's playing a little softer," Woodland said after his round. "The key out here is to, keep the momentum going, and avoid the big number."
Woodland said he changed a bit of his strategy this week.
"I only hit four drivers today," he said. "Callaway strengthened my 3-wood and that seems to be working."
There are a lot of different experiences to be had at the Stadium Course during the tournament. Henley had nine birdies Thursday, but double bogeyed the 7th.
Westwood didn't play any holes over par, making five birdies en route to his 67. Ernie Els shot 68 with three bogies, an eagle (on No. 4) and three birdies, the best a chip in on No. 14.
"I'm never comfortable here," Else explained immediately after his round.
"I tried to come in on Thursday morning but I had an early tee time," he joked, adding that he didn't arrive until Wednesday afternoon. "The tee boxes here all point you to the right. I have to pick my spot. Pete Dye is a genius but he is a sinister man."
Spieth's 67 in the morning included five birdies in his first time seeing the Stadium Course for this tournament. He's played here before in junior golf and leaned on some of that experience.
"I've played enough PGA Tour courses to change my thinking to pick my lines and be a little safer," he said after his round. "It's the same here. You just have to commit to the shot."
Scott Stallings was a mid-morning starter and said he "thought" his way to a 67.
"You have to pick your shots here to take a big number out of play," he explained right behind the 18th green. "Every hole is a birdie opportunity, but every one is also a double waiting to happen. You try and eliminate that."
Rose played the par 5's in 1-over Thursday, leading him to think there could be a lower score than his 67 waiting in Friday's second round.
"I've been working on a lot of things, hitting it great on the range for a while," Rose said. "I'm hoping it's all coming together."
Phil Mickelson shot 75, Rory McIlroy 70 and Adam Scott shot 77.
Conditions were beautiful on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. The forecast for the entire tournament is favorable. While the chance of rain goes up on the weekend, it tops out at 30 percent.
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