Recap: Thursday at THE PLAYERS

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It was such a crazy Thursday at THE PLAYERS that a PGA Champions Tour golfer, Steve Stricker, was on the leaderboard and a former champ, Phil Mickelson, wasn’t.

The young stars — Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy — drew crowds, but not many birdies. Of the group, only McIlroy was under par.

“It could have been better,” said McIlroy. “It could have been probably a little worse as well. It was probably a fair reflection of how I played.”

No one ever defends their title at THE PLAYERS, but sure enough, Si Woo Kim shot 5-under par and is in ninth place. Will he be the first to do it? He’s smack-dab in a gaggle of golfers, a six-way tie for second.

“I played great,” Kim said after his round. “The first three holes I played, and my confidence was really up, and everything was going good, I think, and then the last three holes I missed it a little. But I know that miss, and I'm going to fix it better for tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, more champs from the past showed up, including Sergio Garcia and Matt Kuchar. Garcia was actually leading until he got smacked by the 17th.

“I don't know that anybody's overly comfortable here,” Kuchar said after play. “I think it's such a good golf course, such a good test of golf. Good shots are rewarded, bad shots are punished. You see a wide variety in scores out here. You see guys shoot 6-under and you see guys shoot 6-, 8-over. It's just, it's a great, great test of golf.”

No kidding.

One of the biggest surprises was the performance of world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who usually plays rather dismally at THE PLAYERS. He shot a 66 and was at the top of the leaderboard tied with five others.

Johnson had no bogies. None. That's practically impossible. I mean, have you seen the golf course?

“I feel like I got a good game plan around here,” Johnson noted. “I feel like I played it the same way most of the times I played it, other than I fade the ball instead of draw it — but it still requires you to hit the same kind of shots off the tees. But I don't know, today I drove it well and hit some nice shots and rolled in a few putts, it adds up to a good score.”

He did change putters, from the Spider that he has been using to one more like a blade that he used to use, but not quite a blade.

Tiger Woods and Mickelson obliterated the sun with their star power, acting like a massive solar eclipse over the rest of the field. Both struggled most of the afternoon. Mickelson was in the water on the 17th and Woods hit in the drink on the 18th, off the tee, with an iron, which he obviously played for safety. Rickie Fowler was brave enough to play with the two larger-than-life golfers, and he too suffered, including a visit to the water on 17.

However, anything’s possible, as they used to say on the PGA Tour. So it’s not impossible for all three of them to have brilliant rounds tomorrow.

All in all, it was a day when what you thought might happened didn’t and what you thought couldn’t possibly happen did. Can’t wait for the round two!

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