While it isn't technically a Major, The Players Championship always has the feel of one. And on Thursday, a few prominent players had the feel of potential champions at this tournament.
Two of the top players in the world who traditionally struggle at this tournament were right in the running atop the leaderboard after the first day, while another contender found himself in a hot group and kept up the pace.
And all three will repeat their performances on Friday. Let's break each one down.
McIlroy was excellent on Thursday, finishing six-under par for the day with a 66 to start his tournament. That was good enough for a tie for second place on the day (at the time of this publication). With six birdies in the first round, McIlroy got off to the right kind of start.
Having this cushion is all the more important for a player who has failed to make the cut in his last three appearances at this tournament. Had McIlroy struggled early, it would be easy to see him losing confidence with his past failures in this tournament looming in his memory.
Instead, I expect him to remain near the top of the leaderboard after Friday. To his credit, he's adjusted his strategy coming into play this year (via BBC):
I'm adopting a more conservative strategy off the tee this week and I think it's going to help me. If you hit the ball onto the fairway more often on this course, then are going to have chances to get close to the pins.
That is something I did today and I need to keep doing it over the next three days. My game has progressed nicely in recent weeks and I've been shooting scores that are really promising. Some of the signs I've been seeing on the golf course are very promising.
McIlroy has yet to win in 2013. Thus far, he's on the right track to ending that drought.
Woods had a heck of a round on Thursday, shooting a five-under 67 that tied him for fifth place on the leaderboard. For a player that traditionally struggles at TPC Sawgrass (just one win in his career at the course), Woods sure got off to a hot start.
You could say that about his season as well. With three wins this year and one fateful penalty at The Masters, Woods finally looks like he's regained his form of old.
Look for Woods to keep up his strong play and be in the pole position heading into the weekend.
Stricker has been very good this season, with three top-five finishes. He looks to be on pace for a fourth after shooting a five-under 67, good enough to leave him tied for fifth place on the day (at the time of publication).
One positive for Stricker is that he's generally struggled in early rounds this year and improved from there. If that's the case in this tournament, look out.
Of course, there may have been something about the group Stricker was in, as he was grouped with McIlroy and Adam Scott (69). If that trio can take their good play into Friday, all three should be sitting comfortably near the top of the leaderboard.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!