Players Championship 2023: Scottie Scheffler’s smarts, Rory McIlroy’s woes lead to nine spots from Round 1

A pair of young stars are in contention after the first round of the 2023 Players Championship. Colin Morikawa roared through the gates Thursday morning at TPC Sawgrass, firing a bogey 7-under 65 to stay one stroke off Chad Ramey’s lead . Coming into this week in the midst of a five-tournament streak that includes two missed cuts and three top-10 finishes, Morikawa appears to be blooming early.

However, he is not the only young major champion to throw himself into the mix at the PGA Tour’s flagship event, as is the reigning Player of the Year. Scottie Scheffler’s day wasn’t as flashy as Morikawa’s, but it was enough for him to post a 4-under 68. Starting the day with nine consecutive pars, the world No. 2 led five back-9 birdies into first page of the scoreboard.

Viktor Hovland, Jordan Spieth and Cameron Young wrapped up action on Thursday with solid efforts on the toughest afternoon wave and will look to keep the pedal to the metal early on Friday. Also needing to do some damage are world No. 1 Jon Rahm (-1) and world No. 3 Rory McIlroy (+4), who is near the bottom of the leaderboard.

Here are 10 thoughts from the opening round of the 2023 Players Championship.

1. Chad Ramey? Meet Ramey now because this probably won’t last. Ramey won five strokes with his leg on Thursday, which is completely unsustainable. He does not have a single top 20 in his last 25 worldwide starts and entered having missed three straight cuts. So of course (of course!) he beat Rory by 12 in the 1st round.

What the former Mississippi State Bulldogs players offer is an exciting subplot after 18 holes. Can someone who has been pretty subpar in PGA Tour golf the past six months topple Morikawa, Speth and Scheffler at TPC Sawgrass to win the Players?!

“It gives me confidence and deep down I think I belong here,” said Ramey, whose only PGA Tour win was the Puerto Rico Open last March. “I think I can beat them. It’s just a matter, I guess, of proving to everybody else that I can. But it’s nice to see my name up there with them because I won an opposite field event, but a win is a win in my book , so I’m not going to complain.”

2. Morikawa Crush: When Morikawa strikes, he hits. His 2023 has been a microcosm of that so far. In his last five starts, he has two missed cuts and three top-six finishes. The stat that is mentioned (that I have mentioned) during good games like this is his putting ability. While this is technically true, it also doesn’t tell the whole story. Data Golf noted that Morikawa is one of the best in the world at combining a great week of putting with a great week of hitting the ball, which he looks set to do this week.

On Thursday, Morikawa won in a stroke on the greens but led the field in iron play and overall tee play. That’s a scary formula that has led him to a career’s worth of wins in just the last few years. Especially for someone who says he’s playing with a lot of freedom once again.

“I’d say, for the most part, I’m back to playing like I used to.” he said. “I’m trying to enjoy it. I would say, this week, what I found earlier this week, my swing hasn’t looked this good probably since 2019 when I first came out. I’ve played really well, 2020, 2021, but position-wise I like being in the moment and just letting everything go, allowing me to look at my target and hit the ball and hope it goes where I want it to go.”

3. Smart Scheff: The No. 2 player in the Official World Golf Ranking remains somewhat underrated. Scheffler was this week nearly two full strokes per tournament better at hitting the ball than the second-best ball-striker in the world so far in 2023. That’s amazing. Continued on Thursday. Scheffler gained nearly five strokes on the course from tee to green, and he did so by playing smart shot after smart shot and making shots when they presented themselves.

Here’s an example on the par-3 8th hole. Scheffler played to the left side of the green, his meat, while partners Rahm and McIlroy hit poor shots long and right, suggesting they likely broke on that right pin. They combined to play 1 over, while Scheffler made a 1-foot par putt. That’s a microcosm of his wisdom, but add it over 18 or 72 holes — and combine it with his impressive ball skills — and you begin to see why he wins so many golf tournaments.


4. Min Woo Cramps: I felt horrible for Min Woo Lee, but at the same time, I found myself smiling at a grown man bending his body over the back of a lawn chair, while another man with white hair slicked back — that some on Twitter said that he looked like President Joe Biden — worked his calf muscles. What a scene! Lee, who has the flashiest mustache in all of sports, shared the lead briefly before chasing it away with bogeys on the final two holes. Still, it was a valiant effort for someone who seemed to be barely able to walk slowly.

He blamed the cramps on a lack of electrolytes and looks like he’ll be fine for the next few rounds.

Speaking of Min Woo … His sister, Minjee, is ranked in the top five in the world on the women’s side. How crazy is it to have siblings in the top 50 in both men’s and women’s golf?! “From the same t-shirts, I will [beat her]. But when he plays with the women and I play with the men, they are very close,” Min Woo said. “If we had a sprint I think I would have won, but he is so consistent. So, I think over 100 rounds, I think it would beat me because I can hit it sideways and it doesn’t hit it off the mark. Yes, it’s very close, I think.’

5. Rory makes trouble: We talked about the right miss McIlroy was off the tee Thursday morning, but what really pushed him out of the tournament was a frozen athlete. He hit just one putt longer than 4 feet Thursday and finished near last in the field in strokes gained. It was an issue on the West Coast where he dropped seven strokes in two tournaments, and it was even more of an issue Thursday in the first round at TPC Sawgrass.

6. Fireworks at No. 17: We saw a little bit of everything at No. 17 in Round 1. The day started with a sick ace by Hayden Buckley.

This resulted in the best way you can describe an ace.

Then, at the end of the day, Nick Watney squared up for a four-way bogey with three of those putts coming from within 4 feet. One of them was a one handed miss of 9 inches. No. 17 may be slightly overrated as a golf hole, but it always seems to deliver the drama.

7. Rough Rough: Something several players mentioned Thursday was how the rough played. Driving the ball well is almost always a prerequisite to playing good golf in this league, but that will be especially true this time, it seems.

“I feel like that’s as much of a penalty as I’ve seen out of fouls in a long time,” McIlroy said. “You’d have to go back to when the tournament was played in May, when we were in Bermuda, for it to be so punishing. wrestling.”

Added Morikawa: “It’s just the way the greens are oriented out here and obviously where they’re putting pins you can’t attack them. You’re just not going to get spin. So when the ball sits that much, I mean, you” just I’m trying to put it on the front edge and I’m trying to make 4. That’s why it’s so important. I got lucky today; what I missed, I was in the shelter or the pine straw or the first cut. I got away with a few, which is very nice, and you kind of use it to your advantage.”

The greens were baking as the day wore on (the afternoon swell was almost a stroke harder than the morning), and Morikawa noted that he didn’t think water would be applied to them for the rest of the week. This puts an even greater premium on finding routes in the coming days.

8. Roller coaster and roller coaster-adjacent: The most entertaining team of the afternoon wave was the Justin Thomas-Jordan Spieth-Max Homa crew. Spieth got it going on the second nine with one of the dirtiest shots of the day on No. 11, and JT got a taste of Spieth’s manic lifestyle (along the way).

Thomas shot a 73 with two birdies and an eagle (which certainly looks like Spieth), and Spieth somehow left as a low man with a 3-under round. He doesn’t traditionally play well on this golf course and his lefty miss means 7 is always around the corner at Sawgrass, but his 69 on Thursday was a terrific score on the toughest afternoon wave.

9. Quote of the day: “Golf is never really easy, unfortunately. I wish it was easier a little more often.” — Scottie Scheffler, who sits four back from the lead

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