Stadium Course a rare tame test in Round 1 of Players Championship

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass has a well-earned reputation for its treachery.

Its late legendary designer, Pete Dye, was known for his diabolical layouts that mess with the minds of even the best players in the world.

Yet the venerable course was alarmingly tame Thursday for the Players Championship opening round, yielding an inordinate number of subpar scores by day’s end.

Scottie Scheffler, who shot a first-round 67 and is at 5-under-par, hits a shot on the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass. Getty Images

“I knew the scores would be pretty low,’’ world No. 1 and defending champion Scottie Scheffler said after shooting a 5-under-par 67. “The golf course is pretty soft and there was no wind.’’

Xander Schauffele, Rory McIlroy and Wyndham Clark took best advantage of the favorable conditions, all shooting 7-under-par 65s to share the lead.

They’re trailed closely by Matthew Fitzpatrick and Nick Taylor at 6-under. Jason Day, Ludvig Aberg, Tom Hoge and Scheffler, the winner of last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, are all 5-under.

McIlroy, who’s missed the cut in three of his past five starts at the Players, has been dogged by poor starts at TPC.

He opened with a 76 last year, which led to a missed cut, shot 73 in the opening round in 2022 and 79 in 2021, missing the cut. In his one victory at TPC Sawgrass, McIlroy opened with a 67 in 2019.

Rory McIlroy was all smiles during his first-round 65 at the Players Championship. Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

“I didn’t have many expectations going out there today because I was like, ‘OK, feels good on the range and feels good in practice, but let’s see how it is when you’ve got a card in your hand,’ ’’ McIlroy said. “There’s something to be said for that — just sort of lessening the expectations a little bit and going out there and seeing what happens. It was obviously a great start.’’

McIlroy called his disappointing final-round 76 at Bay Hill on Sunday “a wake-up call’’ for him, forcing him to spend some five hours practicing on Monday.

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“I needed to clean up the technique a little bit, needed to clean up some things,’’ he said. “Honestly, I just needed to put the time in. Say I had a decent day on Sunday at Bay Hill and shot 70, for sure I would have taken Monday off here. But because of not shooting a decent score, I grinded on the range and figured something out and put the time in, and it’s sort of already reaping benefits, so that’s nice.’’

Schauffele has had a weird history in this tournament, finishing tied for second in 2018, his first time playing in it, then missing the cut the next three times he played before a tie for 19th last year.

“[I’m] just playing good golf,’’ he said. “Pretty confident with where my game’s at, and it’s nice to see. I’ve been struggling with the putter a little bit, but it was nice to see some putts go in from distance today, and it’s just day one.’’

Xander Schauffele plays his shot from the ninth tee during the first round of The Players Championship. Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

USC quarterback Caleb Williams, who’s expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft next month, followed Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Viktor Hovland’s group Thursday.

After the round, when McIlroy was asked about Williams apparently attending his first golf tournament, he said, “It’s really cool. I think golf is hopefully becoming more popular and more mainstream and sort of making it out of its little niche area that it has. It’s very cool to have people out there following that take an interest in what we’re doing out there, especially other athletes.’’

Ryan Fox, a 37-year-old from New Zealand, carded a hole-in-one on the famous par-3 island-green 17th hole Thursday. That came after he made eagle on No. 16 en route to an opening-round 3-under-par 69.

“It’s such an iconic hole, and it’s an intimidating shot,’’ Fox said of 17. “I don’t care who you are: You get up there, most of the crowd probably either wants you to make a 1 or hit it in the water, so I’m glad to be on the right side of it in that respect.’’

Tom Kim withdrew after playing eight holes, citing an illness. … Adam Hadwin was so disgusted with his wedge approach shot on the 18th hole, he helicoptered his club into the lake that runs along the left side of the hole.

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