If you had William McGirt or Mackenzie Hughes as the first-round leader of The Players Championship in your office pool, you must be smiling.
The two unknowns jumped out to 5-under par to sit atop the leaderboard at Sawgrass Country Club. Four other golfers sit one stroke behind at 4-under par. McGirt jumped to the lead as one of the early risers. Hughes started his day in the afternoon session, dealing with scorching temperatures and a lack of wind. Now, while the two reverse paths – with McGirt playing the afternoon round, Hughes may have an advantage in the cool morning air.
Hughes told members of the media after his round that he was pleased with his performance, especially going bogey-free on a course that will test all of a golfer’s skills.
“Yeah, it was very solid, but yeah, to go bogey-free around this place, very difficult to do, obviously, and I started the day, I wouldn’t have expected a round like that, but I knew my game was trending,” Hughes said. “I had some good results last week, and yeah, it was just one of those days. It wasn’t perfect golf, but I managed it really well and made a few nice saves when I needed to and made a few nice putts, so it was good, a good day.”
Other than the two rounds of golf he played on The Players Championship course Monday through Wednesday, this was Hughes’ first full round of golf here in North Florida.
McGirt finished his round with the score to beat. With players like Jason Day and Rickie Fowler challenging for the lead early in the day, the 37-year-old golfer has two professional wins on the PGA Tour since turning pro in 2004. He was more than happy with the way he played Thursday.
“Well, it was just a good solid day all around. Couple hiccups there, 10 and 18, but played pretty solid on the front. I think I missed one green and that was No. 5. Chipped it up there pretty close. Kind of almost feel like you steal two when you birdie both the par-3s on the front,” said McGirt.
“I had a good birdie on 7 there, but 11 I had 250 front I think 279 hole, so I didn’t think I could really hit 3-wood over the green. Landed on the front, rolled to the middle, and buried a 50-foot windmill putt. And then 16 had 205 front, 236 hole, and just kind of smoothed a 5-iron up in the air and went in on the last roll.”
Having the lead after the first round of The Players Championship may be something to celebrate, both golfers know this tournament is won over the weekend. It’s a tournament that can also be lost at the same time.
There are 31 golfers within three strokes of the lead.
Hughes said having the lead is a welcomed feeling after missing a few cuts in a row.
“I was getting a little frustrated, a little down on myself, and last week was a big step in the right direction, just trying to make a little mental adjustment and just be a tad more patient, a little more forgiving or accepting of the misses. It paid off last week and still paying off again right now,” Hughes said.
McGirt’s play here at The Players Championship has been a mixed bag, to be nice. The course is something that has presented challenges not only to him, but other golfers over the years.
“I don’t know that you can really learn this golf course, because the thing with this place is you hit one that lands four, five feet off the putting surface, there’s no telling what’s going to happen to it. Especially like you go to No. 2, let’s say you hit a good shot into 2, and it lands four, five feet off the right side of the green, off the putting surface, not the slope, but it hits that slope and it shoots it over there right and you got nothing. You can’t finish from over there. So, it’s a matter of getting away with somehow getting lucky when you do miss a shot,” McGirt said.
“Today for the most part I was okay. Couple days last year, Saturday especially, seemed like if I hit a shot it ended up in the worst possible place where you couldn’t finish if you gave me a bucket and six hours to do it. It’s just one of those things. That’s the way this golf course is.”