Martin Kaymer got off to a great start at The Players Championship, earning a slight lead with a course-record score of a nine-under 63. However, the tough field ensures that this event is far from over.
Russell Henley trails by two strokes after posting a 65 in Round 1. Like Kaymer, he had nine birdies, but a double bogey ruined his chances of ending the first day with the lead. Also among the leaders is Sang-Moon Bae, who finished six strokes under par with an impressive round.
Lee Westwood, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose and many more also remain in contention after strong first days in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Each of these players has a chance to make noise in the next few rounds while contending for the championship.
Here is a look at the updated leaderboard through the first round:
For a full look at the leaderboard, go to PGATour.com.
Henley was able to take the early lead in the tournament thanks to an incredible back-nine performance. He did have three birdies on his first four holes, but a double bogey on No. 7 kept him from pulling away. However, the final nine holes featured six birdies and three pars.
This tee shot on the par-three No. 17 was a great example of how well he was sticking his shots:
As ESPN's Justin Ray noted, this is a good sign for Henley:
However, as good as Henley's back nine was, Kaymer was even better on the front. ESPN's Michael Collins and Golf Channel's Jason Sobel put Kaymer's Thursday performance in perspective:
If Martin Kaymer makes birdie at the ninth he'd have the 9 hole record 29. Combined with Henley's back nine 30, 59 was out there. #GoLow— Michael Collins (@ESPNCaddie) May 8, 2014
Martin Kaymer shoots 63 to tie Greg Norman and Roberto Castro for the tournament record. Stood for 19 years, matched each of the last two.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) May 8, 2014
Kaymer reached green in regulation in 17 of the 18 holes while also hitting in some impressive putts. Even when he seemed to get into trouble, he was able to make up for it. Like this stellar shot out of the sand:
If this consistency keeps up, he'll be tough to catch.
Kaymer spoke about his round via the PGA Tour on Twitter:
"Ballstriking-wise, that's one of the best rounds I've ever played." -- Martin Kaymer, who missed just 2 fairways and 1 green on Thursday.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 8, 2014
Still, one of the best shots of the day came from Bae, who earned an eagle on No. 2 and hardly slowed down from there:
The South Korean star had great drive accuracy and it helped him end the day in third place.
These remain the top names on the board after 18 holes, but there are almost a dozen players in the running at five strokes under par. Among this list is Rose, Westwood and Sergio Garcia—players who have been near the top of leaderboards many times in their careers and know how to finish off tournaments.
Which top player is most likely to struggle in Round 2?
Another name to watch out for is Rory McIlroy, who managed just a 70 on Thursday but has had a strong season and always has the ability to post an incredibly low score. He had six birdies in his first round, which would have been much better without four bogeys.
If he can learn to avoid mistakes in his next three rounds, he has as good of a shot as anyone to climb up the leaderboard and challenge for the title.
One player who did not have a good day is Phil Mickelson, who shot a 75 in his opening round. The star had been struggling over the past few months, but had some confidence coming into the week, via Bob Harig of ESPN.com:
I've got to cut myself a little slack. Because for a long time early on, I wasn't healthy, wasn't able to go at the ball with the right amount of speed, which is going to not just affect my driving, but also affect my distance control, because I don't know exactly what speed I'm going through impact. But I've been feeling great since a few weeks prior to the Masters and I feel like last week was a good week for me to try to help put all things together.
Unfortunately, he totaled four bogeys on the day and explained that his game is "just not clicking," via Kyle Porter of CBS Sports.
There is a lot of time to turn things around, but he will have to hit some better shots on Friday. Adam Scott, Ian Poulter and other big names also struggled in the first round.
Fortunately, everyone is still alive heading into Round 2 as the entire field looks to catch Kaymer. The German star could very well come back to earth over the weekend, giving others a chance to make a run at a big payday on Sunday.
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