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Castro Course-Record-Tying 63 Holds Up all Day at Players Championship
Robert Castro had an early tee time at the Players Championship, and his record-tying round went unmatched throughout the first round at golf's so-called "fifth major" at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Castro, a 27-year-old Texan, started play on the 10th tee at 7:36 a.m. and took advantage of calm early-morning conditions at the hazard-strewn Pete Dye-designed course. The Georgia Tech grad carded five birdies on his first nine holes to make the turn in 5-under 31, then eagled the par-5 second (his 11th) before tacking on two more birdies for a 32 on his back side.
Castro's 63 matched the course and tournament record set by Fred Couples and Greg Norman in 1992 and 1994, respectively. "It was a fun day," Castro told PGATour.com.
How fun was it? Castro missed only one fairway, hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation and needed only 26 putts for the first-round lead in the $9.5 million event. "I hit it close a lot," he added.
He also became the 75th player in Players Championship history to birdie each hole in the Stadium course's "Gauntlet" - Nos. 16, 17 and 18. But such a display on that stretch is no guarantee of a victory as none of the previous 74 players who accomplished the feat won the tournament.
Castro is three strokes ahead of Zach Johnson and Rory McIlroy, and four in front of Casey Wittenberg, Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker, Ryan Palmer, reigning U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson and No. 1-ranked Tiger Woods.
McIlroy, coming off a T-10 finish in last week's Wells Fargo Championship, felt he entered the Players with his game in good shape. "I'm coming off the back of a pretty good week," the 24-year-old Northern Irishman said Wednesday.
"I felt like the finish didn't really reflect how I played. From tee to green I was very solid last week. I just couldn't really get the putter going at all. But really happy with where my game is coming into this week, so hopefully I can see the weekend here for the first time."
After his round Thursday, McIlroy noted that he arrived at Sawgrass with a different attitude than his Players-past. "I'm definitely a lot more relaxed coming in here this year," he told PGATour.com. "Whatever I do this week what I felt coming in is I'll do better than I ever have before. I feel like I've got the game to contend. I just wanted to go out and play well, and that's what I've done so far."
Woods had a relaxing day of it, at least until coming to the par-4 closing hole. The three-time winner in 2013 had six birdies through 17 holes before a bogey on the last dropped him to 5-under. His only triumph at Sawgrass came in 2001.
Posting 68s were Jason Bohn, Sweden's Henrik Stenson and David Lingmerth, Aussie Greg Chalmers, Ireland's Padraig Harrington, Spain's Sergio Garcia - the 2009 Players champion, and South Korea's Sang-Moon Bae.
Adam Scott is playing competitively for the first time in over a month since he became the first Australian to win a green jacket in 77 years at the Masters. The 32-year-old, who basically chilled out following Augusta National, shot a 69 Thursday.
On Wednesday Scott told the media he actually took more time off than usual following a major championship. "Put the clubs away for a little while. I left (them away) another week, which felt good, and I managed to just have no agenda for that week and enjoy myself and do nothing for a few days. It was nice."
Scott, like many players in the field, took advantage of Thursday's benign conditions. "It was ideal," he told PGATour.com after his 3-under outing. "The greens seemed pretty receptive too, so if you were in the fairway you could attack."
Among the 17 players also posting 69s were former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and fellow major winner Ben Curtis.
Michael Thompson carded a 69 that was greatly aided by a hole-in-one on the 231-yard, par-3 eighth. Thompson, a 28-year-old whose first Tour win came in March at the Honda Classic, used a 3-iron to help offset four bogeys. It was the first ace on that hole since Jumbo Ozaki's in 2000; the previous hole-in-one at the Players came in 2008 by Robert Garrigus at the 13th.
Another huge group posted 70s. The 20 players with 2-under efforts included Grand Slam winners Keegan Bradley, Graeme McDowell, Davis Love III and Justin Leonard.
Defending champion Matt Kuchar opened with a 71, a number matched by a 13 others, including Brandt Snedeker.
Other scores included even-par 72s by 16-time Tour winner Jim Furyk, four-time major champion Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald, Justin Rose and Charl Schwartzel. Bubba Watson, 2012 Masters' winner, had a 73 along with Ernie Els and 11 others, including 2010 PGA champion Martin Kaymer of Germany.
Vijay Singh caused an uproar Wednesday when he filed a lawsuit in New York against the PGA Tour, claiming the organization exposed him to "public humiliation and ridicule" during its 12-week investigation into his admitted use of deer-antler spray.
The 50-year-old Fijian and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame opened with a 2-over 74, a score matched by two-time major winner Angel Cabrera of Argentina. Singh didn't have any remarks for reporters after his round, and the big Sawgrass galleries generally left him alone, although one woman shouted as Singh walked past, "We don't care what the PGA Tour says. We support Vijay."
Derek Ernst, the winner of last week's Wells Fargo Championship, shot a 74, and Billy Horschel - the winner weeks ago in New Orleans, had a 76.
For updated scores, visit http://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html.