PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Martin Kaymer stopped thinking, started swinging and played his way into the record book Thursday at The Players Championship.
Kaymer missed only two fairways. He putted for birdie on all but one hole. And the former PGA champion finished with four straight birdies to become only the fourth player to shoot 9-under-par 63 on the Stadium Course at the TPC Sawgrass, giving him a two-shot lead over Russell Henley.
Kaymer took advantage of a perfect day for scoring — warm weather, hardly any wind and soft greens.
There were 28 rounds in the 60s, which made the score by Adam Scott look even worse. With another chance — his best one yet — to get to No. 1 in the world for the first time, Scott finished with two double bogeys from shots in the water and signed for a 77. It was his highest opening round at The Players since his first trip in 2002.
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Kaymer was flawless, hitting whatever shot he felt he needed. His final blow was a hybrid that ran through the ninth green and into a bunker, leaving a simple up-and-down for birdie. He had a 29 on the back, the first player in the 32-year history at Sawgrass to break 30 on either nine.
Roberto Castro also opened with a 63 last year. The only others with 63 were Greg Norman in the first round in 1994 and Fred Couples in the third round in 1992.
“It’s just a nice bonus,” Kaymer said. “It’s only the first round of a long, long tournament. It’s nice to make some history. No one shot 29 on that golf course before.”
Kaymer would not have seemed like a good candidate.
He has not won since the HSBC Champions in Shanghai at the end of 2011. He hasn’t had a top 10 all year. But the 29-year-old German has felt his swing start to come together in recent weeks. His name has been featured on leaderboards more and more.
Henley, who won the Honda Classic in a four-way playoff in March, made birdie on half of his holes to atone for one big mistake. He hooked a tee shot into the water on No. 7 and compounded that with a three-putt for double bogey. But he answered with six birdies on the back nine for a 65.
Bae Sang-Moon had a 66.
The group at 67 included Sergio Garcia, who looked sharp, happy and confident in his game.
And he had loads of company. Lee Westwood, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose also were at 67. The group at 68 included Ernie Els and Dustin Johnson. There were 67 rounds under par, and the scoring average of 71.99 was the eighth lowest for an opening round at The Players Championship.
But it wasn’t easy for everyone. Rory McIlroy made three bogeys over his last seven holes and tumbled to a 70. That wasn’t nearly as bad as Phil Mickelson. Coming off a 76 in the final round at Quail Hollow last week, he started his round by missing a 3-foot par putt and shot 75.
Of the four players with a mathematical chance to reach No. 1, only Masters champion Bubba Watson broke 70. He had a 69, while Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar each had a 71.
Ryan Moore of Puyallup shot a 70. Former Husky Richard H. Lee had a 71. Kyle Stanley of Gig Harbor shot a 73. Michael Putnam from University Place had a 75.