William McGirt, boosted by two eagles, charged to the clubhouse lead as defending champion Jason Day leaked oil coming home during the first round at The Players Championship in Florida on Thursday.
McGirt won the Memorial a year ago for his first PGA Tour title, and he went up to Muirfield Village on Tuesday to help promote the event.
Among those at 68 was Jon Rahm, another first-timer at this lucrative event in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., who had one of four bogey-free rounds on a very steamy day.More news: Almost 1 million tune in to watch Derek Jeter's speech
Golf's top player Johnson is a stroke further back after recording an eagle, two birdies and three bogeys in a mixed bag for the U.S. Open champion, who has won three of eight events this season.
Masters victor Sergio Garcia produced the shot of the day, landing only the eighth ever hole-in-one on TPC Sawgrass's iconic "Island Green" par-three 17th, but he struggled overall to a one-over 73. He felt nerves on the first tee when he was introduced as the Masters champion.
However, with blustery winds making scoring hard on Saturday, the 2008 champion surged up the leaderboard with a third round of 67 containing six birdies, three bogeys and an eagle. Phil Mickelson first competed in The Players Championship as a senior at Arizona State in 1992, the year before Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Jordan Spieth were even born.More news: Trump told Russians pressure off after firing 'nutjob' Comey
But the four-time Major victor then bogeyed the fifth.
He was 4 over through six holes to start this tournament and had not made up any ground until a birdie on the 16th, his ace on the 17th and a par save on the 18th for a 73. A bogey on the final hole gave him a 5-under 67 on a steamy morning at the TPC Sawgrass, and a one-shot lead among the early starters.
Hughes had only played 36 total holes on the Stadium Course - all in practice this week - before teeing it up on Thursday afternoon. It might just be a flare-up of what happened previously and I just need to rest for a few days and it might be OK. "Kind of nearly feel like you steal two when you birdie both the par-3s on the front", said McGirt. "I think I wasn't quite in the tournament because of everything that's been going on after the Masters win and media and people congratulating you left, right and center". The ball cleared the water by 3 yards, took a big hop 8 inches past the cup and spun back into the hole.More news: Wall St set to open slightly higher as oil prices jump
McIlroy insisted his back felt a little better as he lifted himself into a tie for 20th, making good birdies at the 16th and 17th before giving one back after taking three putts to get down from over 50 feet at the last. "I'm going for a MRI scan on Monday just to make sure it's not serious and then I'll see what we do from there". "And then I went back at it on Friday and instead of maybe gradually building it up again, I hit balls for four or five hours on Friday and did the same on Saturday".
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