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Sam Kouvaris: Players 1st Round: "Quite tricky"

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(Matt Kingston - WJXT)

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – With the wind blowing in the opposite direction than what they were used to, the first round of the Players Championship in 2015 provided some fireworks in some non-traditional spots.
And many times in the wrong direction.

There seemed to be an inordinate number of sixes on the 18th hole in the first round and the statistics bore that out. It played as the hardest hole of the day and in fact, it's the hardest hole on tour this year. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson both hit it in the water and made double bogey there to shoot 73. Adam Scott did the same and finished at even par. Jimmy Walker, Nick Watney, Justin Rose, Paddy Harrington and Jason Day all had good rounds going, spoiled by 18. Scott Piercy and Brooks Koepka made eights.

Charley Hoffman grabbed a share of the lead playing in the afternoon with a 5 under 67 despite a triple-bogey 7 on the 10th hole. "It's one of those things. Sort of took it with a grain of salt," Hoffman said of his triple. He added staying patient is always the key here. "You're sort of always on edge on this golf course. You're one swing from being in the water or being in the trees, so, yeah, there's no really free and easy shots out here."

With a rare birdie on 18, (four today) David Hearn also moved to the top of the leaderboard in the first round. He said his two best swings of the day were on the finishing hole, and rather enjoys playing the Stadium Course. "I just enjoy a good test of golf and I think this place is. Every shot is a challenge and you really can't fall asleep out there. You pay for it too quickly."

And in a fairly familiar spot, Kevin Na played well throughout the day finishing with only one bogey on his scorecard (on 15) and six birdies to tie for the lead playing in the last group of the day. His birdie on number nine, his final hole of the day, gave him an opening round 67. Na has played well here before but hasn't been able to put four rounds together to contend for the title. Na finished tied for third in 2009 and lead after 54 holes in 2012 before finishing tied for 7th with a 76 in the final round.

Derek Fathauer got everybody's attention after turning in one under going to his second nine, the front side. He went eagle, birdie, eagle to jump to six under, on hopping a wedge in from 130 yards on number four. Turning back into the wind, he made a couple of bogeys and finished with a 68.

Hideki Matsuyama had the lead after the morning players following his opening 67 that included a birdie on his final hole, number 9. Through an interpreter Matsuyama said "I putted very well today. That was the difference." He confirmed that you have to know when to go for it and when to play safe on the Stadium. "You're right, especially if you don't hit the fairway with your tee shot you just got to put it on the green somewhere and hope to make par."

Morning players during Thursday's first round were greeted with somewhat benign conditions at the Stadium Course. Problem was the wind kicked up as the day wore on and "It got quite tricky out there," according to World Number One Rory McElroy who shot three under 69 today.

"Anything in the 60's or actually anything under par is a good score to start here," according to McElroy.

That's why Rickie Fowler was "Off to s good solid start and in a good position but also not too satisfied." Fowler had it to six under through 12 holes but finished with a 69 after a double bogey on 3 and a bogey on 9 to finish his round. "I don't think you really look ahead too much on this golf course. There's nothing really to look forward to as far as thinking that you're going to be able to go attack and get after it."

Coming off of back surgery, Steve Stricker also shot three under 69 in his opening round. Five birdies and two bogies put him two off the lead after not hitting it great. "I had two or three putts on the back side that I didn't make. But just played pretty smart all the way around and kept it out of trouble," he said immediately after finishing. Stricker said he felt a little rusty and thinks experience plays a big factor here. "I think you got to step up and hit some shots when it calls for it, and then there's times where you just have to back off, too, and say you know what, that's not a very smart play."

Among the morning players, Jordan Spieth had a huge crowd following his group. Partially because he comes here as the Masters champion and partially because Rory and Jason Day were his playing partners. Spieth shot three over par 75, saying he never got anything going. "Really tough ball striking day. Just couldn't find anything really since I have gotten here on Monday." Spieth says he's been working on his alignment but he just has to keep working on it. "It's nothing major, it's just a level of trust out there. It's not an easy course and when there's a lot of water in play, it's difficult to trust. You've got to really be on your game."