Sergio Garca made a memorable return after his Masters win when holing in one at the notorious 17th in The Players Championship at Sawgrass
The most remarkable switch of fortune continues apace. It is now laughable to recall how Sergio Garca poor, put upon, down-trodden Sergio was once the standard whipping boy for the golfing gods. Suddenly he is the Spaniard with the Midas touch.
Even when things look to be going wrong for Garca they turn out right. In the first round of The Players Championship, the 37-year-olds first start since he ended a major championship drought at Augusta National, he took to the 17th when three over par and already battling to make the halfway cut. One of golfs most iconic spots produced a similarly illuminating moment; Garca stood with right arm aloft after recording a hole in one. How he must wish he could bottle this recurring emotion.
It was a great feeling, Garca said. The only surprise was that he did not walk across the water between tee and green. I hit a good shot but it could go a few yards past, it could go anywhere. It was nice to see it bounce into the hole because I needed it.
Garcas ace was the eighth at the 17th in Players Championship history. His 73 felt like something of a moral victory. I was a little bit nervous early on but I managed to stay with it and hit better shots, he added. To salvage one over feels like a decent round.
Even the 17th at Sawgrass was once Garcas nemesis. In 2013 he took a quadruple bogey there when conceding the Players title to Tiger Woods. Two years later Garca was heckled when taking to the same hole in a tournament play-off. Just as elsewhere, agony has turned to ecstasy for the Masters champion.
If Room 101 is ever introduced to golf, Rory McIlroy will have little trouble when deciphering where to start. One of this sports great anomalies is that one of the finest players of his generation has such struggles on the front nine at Sawgrass, especially when compared with such stunning statistics on the inward half.
McIlroy arrived at this Players Championship with an aggregate score of plus nine before the turn since 2013. From there and over the same time period, the Northern Irishman was 40 under. When the 28-year-old dropped a shot at the 1st, with new equipment in hand, amid Thursydays most testing conditions and following the inevitable down time as associated with recent marriage, the narrative seemed set.
It is partly to McIlroys credit that this time events did not follow a trend. He reached halfway in even-par 36 before the kind of concentration lapse which undermined earlier fine work. The four-times major winner missed from tap-in range at the 10th for a double bogey which meant reparation work was needed over the closing stretch. Instead McIlroy handed another two shots back to the course after finding water from the 14th tee.
McIlroy at least signed off with a flourish, with a converted birdie putt from 33ft. A zany 73 was thereby complete. I was a little rusty, McIlroy conceded.
Dustin Johnson, the world No1, signed for an opening 71. The 18-hole lead is five under, as held by William McGirt and Mackenzie Hughes.
Jason Day, the defending champion and a man in the form of his life at Sawgrass a year ago, reached five under par before a late stumble meant he had to make do with a 70. Im excited about where my game is, said Day. I did give myself the opportunities coming in. I just unfortunately had a couple of mistakes.
Like Day, Jordan Spieth knows what it is like to play the kind of golf which swats aside all before him. The Texan also comprehends the struggles attached with trying to climb back to the top of the mountain. When Spieth birdied two of his opening three tournament holes, it appeared better times might lie ahead. Instead the two-times major champion returned a 73, thereby continuing a turbulent relationship with this venue. Spieth failed to survive for the weekend of The Players in both 2015 and 2016.
This time Spieth was left to rue a poorly raked bunker at the 1st his 10th from where a horrible lie triggered a double bogey six. It just kind of looked like somebody didnt really care much to do it or was rushing off the green, said Spieth. From that lie I had no chance. It was a frustrating time in the round there, where I was trying to kind of get some momentum going. Going into this round, I felt as good as I felt this entire year.
Phil Mickelson took the curious approach of not playing a single hole of the Stadium Course in the earlier part of this week. Mickelson believed his warm-up time was better spent on the range. Ive played here for 25 years, so its not like that one round was going to make a big difference, Mickelson explained. The policy was rather justified by a first round of 70. Yet this was to prove Garcas day; again.