Collin Morikawa has catapulted himself into contention at the 2023 Players Championship with an opening-round 65 as play was suspended on Thursday due to darkness. Just one stroke off the pace of Chad Ramey (-8), Morikawa rode a scorching performance from tee to green for his best opening round since the Tournament of Champions.
Morikawa’s day began in a relatively straightforward fashion with two birdies on his opening half. Making the turn to his back nine (the front nine at TPC Sawgrass), the two-time major champion caught lightning in a bottle when he played his next six holes in 5 under.
Looking for his first worldwide win in over a year, Morikawa will aim to keep things tight over the next three days. While the likes of Ramey and other relative unknowns are likely to fade as the week progresses, a player who is sure to be there come the back nine on Sunday is world No. 2 Scottie Scheffler.
Signing for a 4-under 68, the Texan once again finds his name on the first page of a leaderboard at a big-time event. He sits one stroke clear of his fellow statesman, Jordan Spieth, as well as Norwegian Viktor Hovland heading into Friday’s second round.
Let’s wrap up what went down throughout the first day of action at TPC Sawgrass.
1. Chad Ramey (-8): To say this performance came out of nowhere would be an understatement. While Ramey won on the PGA Tour last season, this year has been a completely different beast for the 30-year-old. It would make for a great story, but it’s difficult to envision Ramey staying around much longer given how lights out he was on the greens. Ramey gained nearly six strokes with the putter on Thursday (two strokes better than his previous career high) and is unlikely to replicate this over the next 54 holes.
2. Collin Morikawa (-7)
T3. Taylor Pendrith, Ben Griffin, Justin Suh (-6)
T6. Min Woo Lee, Scottie Scheffler, Denny McCarthy, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Adam Svensson, Sam Burns (-4)
T12. Si Woo Kim, Viktor Hovland, Jordan Spieth, Cam Davis, Justin Rose, Nate Lashley, Lucas Glover (-3)
Buckle up. Spieth’s next 54 holes are certain to be a rollercoaster given some of his ball-striking metrics and his history at TPC Sawgrass. Coming into this week, Spieth had failed to register a top-40 finish in his last eight outings here and missed the cut in five of those instances. His ability to keep the ball in the short grass off the tee will be key moving forward as his short game saved him a number of times when he was out of position.
“I mean, it’s just one of those places where I felt like the way I played was really good a lot of times, and then I look at the board here, and I’m like, ‘Huh, I’m not even in the top 10,'” said Spieth. “That’s just the way this tournament has been for me. I’m not going to try and do anything differently, try and force anything more. It’s just I felt like I played what would have been at least that last week, and for some reason, it doesn’t yield a lower score out here. If I can limit mistakes — I played smart when I was out of position today and limited mistakes — the rest of my game feels really solid and should be able to make enough birdies to work my way into contention.”
The island green giveth (and taketh away)
We saw everything from an ace to a seven on the par-3 17th in Round 1. Hayden Buckley got the party started with an ace in the early goings, while Nick Watney brought the vibes down with a four-putt quadruple bogey late in the day. It measured only 125 yards on Thursday, but the 17th was still able to strike fear (and joy) into players.
“I had a little feeling something like that might happen this week,” Buckley said of his hole-in-one. “I don’t know, I’ve been hitting it well, but it’s always nice to see it happen on that hole, too.”