Canada’s Pendrith tied for 3rd in Players Championship as play halted due to darkness

Chad Ramey avoided the stress and bogeymen Thursday at The Players Championship for an eight-under 64, making him an unlikely leader on a TPC Sawgrass course that rarely fails to deliver a surprise.

Ramey held a one-shot lead over two-time champion Collin Morikawa in mild conditions, while Canada’s Taylor Pendrith was in a three-way tie three shots back of the lead. About half the field was at par or better.

That’s not to say it lacked drama.

Hayden Buckley aced the famous island green on the 17th, a hole he had only seen on television until he arrived this week for his Players Championship debut in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

Aaron Wise dropped four balls in a span of two holes β€” into the water on the 17th, then three straight tee shots into the booze left of the 18th fairway, where he closed with a 10, one shy of the record for the highest score on the closing hole.

Rory McIlroy had his highest score in just over a year. The 2019 Players champion opened with a six, closed with a six and was pretty ordinary in between on his way to a 76.

Ramey had no such problems, birdieing all but two holes in the slightly calmer morning conditions.

“I may have made it look that way, but it wasn’t easy at all,” Ramey said. “It was fun. First time shooting a score on such an iconic course like this. You can’t ask for more.”

Ramey qualified for his first Players Championship by winning in the Dominican Republic last year against a weak field held across from the Dell Match Play.

He believes he belongs and can beat anyone, even the strongest field of the year so far. His record doesn’t suggest so, even with the win. In his 28 starts since then, Ramey has missed 18 cuts and failed to finish in the top 20 in the other tournaments.

β€œThe game was really close,” Ramey said. “I know the scores didn’t show it, but it feels really close. I just made a little change in my swing and it seems to be paying off. I kind of hit the ball where I was looking most of the day, and then whenever I got out of my position, I did a very good job coming back.”

Morikawa has missed two cuts in his last three starts, a rarity for him, and spent extra time on his off days trying to find that fade that has brought him so much success. He thinks he’s rocking it now like he did a few years ago.

His signature shot was four to three feet for eagle on the 11th second hole of the day, and it came during an eight-hole stretch in which he played in six under par. Morikawa also played without a bogeyman, a starter on a course that can strike without warning.

“The game is really good and I’m going to use it in the next few days and use that momentum to hopefully play another three really good rounds,” he said.

Pendrith of Richmond Hill, Ont., and Ben Griffin were at 67, while Justin Sue was also at five under with three holes to go before darkness interrupted play.

Scottie Scheffler led the pack at 68, along with Canada’s Adam Svensson. He was part of the marquee group that included the top three players in the world β€” Jon Rahm at No. 1 had a 71 and McIlroy is at No. 3. All of them have a chance to end up at No. 1 even without a win.

Otherwise, it was an eclectic mix of players at 69 or better, which is not unusual for the Players Stadium Course. It ranged from newcomers like Ramey and Min Woo Lee to major leaguers like Scheffler and Justin Rose (69) and Jordan Spieth (69).

Spieth nearly won The Players in his debut in 2014, losing to Martin Kaymer. He has missed the cut in five of his last seven appearances.

“It’s just one of those places where I felt like the way I was playing was pretty good a lot of times, and then I look at the board here and I’m like, ‘Huh. I’m not even in the top 10.’ That’s what this tournament was like for me,” he said.

Adam Hadwin (71), Nick Taylor (74), Corey Conners (75) and Mackenzie Hughes (75) rounded out the group of Canadian performances.

Xander Schauffele was second in his debut (four shots back) and then missed the cut in his next three appearances. He looked like he was headed for another early exit when he was four over 10 holes and had just three pars on his card. But he followed with an eagle on 11 and added three more birdies to get back to 72.

The 17th hole featured a front pin, usually not apparent until Saturday’s round, and it provided plenty of excitement, good and bad. Buckley threw his hat in the air after his ball rolled down the slope and into the cup.

Kelly Kraft hit two in the water on her way to a four-way seven. He had an 80, one of four players to shoot 80 or better. The weather conditions did not justify such a score. The nature of the course allows for this almost every year.

“You just don’t have many holes you can coast on,” Sam Burns said after his 68. “Every shot has your attention here.”

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