Dustin Johnson tied for lead at The Players Championship; Tiger Woods 6 back
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson delivered plenty of entertainment Thursday at The Players Championship.
The lead belonged to just about everyone else.
Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar were among six players who shared the lead at 6-under-par 66 in ideal scoring conditions, creating the largest logjam ever at the TPC Sawgrass and the most players tied at the top at The Players in 40 years.
“If you're on your game, this course suits you,” Kuchar said.
That's been the story of the TPC Sawgrass over the years — a design that doesn't favor one particular style of play. That notion was on overdrive in warm sunshine and moderate wind, conditions so ideal that 12 players were separated by one shot after the opening round, and 68 players in the 144-man field broke par.
Woods wasn't among them. He shot 72 in his first time at The Players in three years. Neither was Mickelson, who had three double bogeys on the back nine and shot 79. Rickie Fowler rounded out the threesome and shot 74. They were the feature group in the afternoon that brought out thousands of sun-soaked fans.
“Toward the back nine, it started getting a little sparse,” Woods said. “I think they might have tipped back a couple and got a little sleepy.”
Or maybe they were just bored.
Kuchar, Chesson Hadley and Patrick Cantlay each got to 7-under until late bogeys. Johnson, Alex Noren and Webb Simpson each shot 66 in the morning when there was only a mild breeze, still enough to make even the best look foolish.
Johnson played like he was determined to keep that No. 1 ranking, which he could lose if he finishes 12th or worse. And he putted like he was fed up with not seeing enough go in. He tried the “AimPoint” method that some players use to help them read the greens. He liked the results.
Johnson started on No. 10 and went out in 31, and when he rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-5 second hole, he was on his way. Johnson only gave himself a few reasonable chances the rest of the way, though he was more than happy with his 66. It was his best score ever on the Stadium Course, and only his fourth time in the 60s.
“I was just not making enough putts,” Johnson said. “It's definitely helped. Because I'm a feel putter, anyway, and so the way you're doing it really is you're just feeling. So it definitely works. I was pretty good the first time I switched. I had done it a little bit, like messing around with it. I'm very pleased with the way I putted today.”