Canada's McKenzie Hughes shares lead at Players Championship

Mackenzie Hughes arrived at the TPC Sawgrass with no scar tissue and played his first round at The Players Championship with no bogeys.

Pretty simple, eh?

The Dundas, Ont., rookie shook his head and laughed. Even after going bogey-free in his debut Thursday for a 5-under 67 to share the lead with William McGirt, Hughes saw enough of the Players Stadium Course to realize that surprises lurk around every corner.

“There’s just not really a moment where you can let up,” Hughes said.

No one knows better than Adam Scott, the 2004 champion who had a one-shot lead going into the par-3 17th hole.

First, he watched Masters champion Sergio Garcia salvage his poor round by making a hole-in-one at the infamous island green. Scott followed by spinning a shot off the bank and into the water for a double bogey, and he compounded that with another double bogey.

“I played some good golf out there and unfortunately not on the last two,” Scott said after settling for a 70. “It happens.”

At least he had company. Dustin Johnson’s first wedge of the way hit the pin, caromed off the green and led to bogey. On a day when nothing seemed to go his way, the world’s No. 1 player opened with a 71. Rory McIlroy went to tap in from 2 feet and missed it, and then had to make one twice that long for his double bogey on the 10th hole. He shot 73.

David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., shot 70, Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., shot 71 and Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., shot 2-over to round out the Canadians in the field. 

Rock solid

Through it all, Hughes was rock solid. Only twice did he have par putts longer than three feet, and he made them both. The Players Stadium Course must be some kind of easy, eh? Hughes laughed and shook his head. “No. It’s very hard.”

McGirt played in the morning and made a pair of eagles on the back nine to atone in his round of 67.

Among those at 68 was Jon Rahm, another first-timer at this lucrative event who had one of four bogey-free rounds on the steamy day in north Florida. Even with a mild wind in the afternoon, just over one-third of the field broke par.

Fast starts and bad finishes were the norm, and not just for Scott.

Defending champion Jason Day ran off two straight birdies after making the turn and was in the lead, however, he made three bogeys over his last four holes and had to settle for a 70.

Sergio Garcia aces infamous 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass2:04

Garcia’s round was different. He made three bogeys and a double bogey in his opening six holes and went out in 40, the first nine holes of competition he has played since winning the Masters a month ago. He felt nerves on the first tee when he was introduced as the Masters champion.

“The feeling was great,” he said. “I think I wasn’t quite in the tournament because of everything that’s been going on after the Masters win and media and people congratulating you left, right and centre. I felt like I was a little bit up in the clouds, and when I woke up, I was 4 over after six.”

He managed a 73 with the eighth ace on the island-green 17th hole in Players Championship history and a tough par save on the 18th.

McGirt was among 13 players from the morning draw who shot in the 60s, but he was the only player to get as low as 6 under until he missed a short par putt on the final hole. Told that no one had made eagle on both par fives on the back nine in the opening round, McGirt didn’t have an answer.

“Good numbers at a good time, made a good swing at a good time,” McGirt said. “You just kind of see the shot and hit the shot and see the putt and hit the putt.”

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