Sunday, December 17, 2017
Golf

Kaymer ties course record with a 63 at Sawgrass

PONTE VEDRA BEACH — Martin Kaymer stopped thinking, started swinging and played his way into the record book Thursday in the Players Championship.

He 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 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 a pair of double bogeys from shots in the water and signed for 77. It was his highest opening round at the Players since his first trip in 2002.

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 29 on the back, the first player in the 32-year history at Sawgrass to break 30 on either nine.

Roberto Castro 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.

And he had a simple explanation. "I stopped thinking," said Kaymer, a former world No. 1. "I thought a lot the last two years about swing changes … that every shot I made I reflect on it, what I did wrong, what I did right."

A few weeks before the Masters, he spent time with longtime swing coach Gunter Kessler in Phoenix, then they had another good session in Germany.

"And then it just clicked a little bit," he said. "I thought, 'Okay, I know I can hit pretty much every shot when I needed to hit it.' If it's a draw, if it's a fade, low or high, I know that I can do it. It's just a matter of getting the confidence on the golf course and then letting it happen and really doing it."

Bae Sang-Moon had 66.

The group at 67 included Sergio Garcia, who spent last year in a war or words with Tiger Woods that lasted right up until the Spaniard hit three balls into the water on the two closing holes and Woods walked away with the win. Garcia looked sharp, happy and was confident in his game.

Lee Westwood, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and U.S. Open champ Justin Rose also were at 67. There were 67 rounds under par 72, and the scoring average of 71.99 was the eighth-lowest for an opening round at the Players Championship.

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