Martin Kaymer of Germany tied the course record with a sizzling, bogey-free 9-under-par 63 on the surprisingly receptive Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass to take a two-stroke lead over Russell Henley after one round of the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Kaymer, who captured the 2010 PGA Championship in a playoff over Bubba Watson at Whistling Straits, birdied seven of the last nine holes while finishing on the front side to tie the course mark set by Fred Couples in 1992, equaled by Greg Norman two years later and again last year by Roberto Castro.
“I didn’t know that (his last putt) was for the record, so it was nice to have just a tap-in for 63,” said Kaymer, who took the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings by winning the 2011 WGC-HSBC Champions in China, but does not have a victory since. “I didn’t make many mistakes, missed only one fairway, and hit some very good putts. If you hit the fairway at Sawgrass, you can go for the flag.
“It was a very good start, but I don’t want to make too much out of it because it’s only the first round. There’s a long ways to go and I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.”
Henley, who claimed his second PGA Tour victory earlier this year in the Honda Classic, overcame a double-bogey 6 on the sixth hole, where he hit his tee shot into the water, with six birdies on the back nine, three in a row to start and three more to finish.
“I knew I was playing well and felt pretty comfortable with the putter,” said Henley, whose other victory came in the 2013 Sony Open in Hawaii. “I just added them (seven birdies) up at the end and there it was.
“I’m pretty confident with my game right now, but I’m working hard on being more consistent. I know I can play with these guys, I just have to do it a little more often.”
Sang-Moon Bae of South Korea hit his second short from 251 yards on the second hole to within five feet and holed the eagle putt, added five birdies and was alone in third after a 66.
Tied for fourth at 67 were U.S. Open champion Justin Rose of England, Sergio Garcia of Spain, Jordan Spieth, Lee Westwood of England, Gary Woodland, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano of Spain, Brian Stuard and Scott Stallings.
Adam Scott, who needs to finish in a two-way tie for 16th or better to take the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings from Tiger Woods, who won the Players last year but is recovering from back surgery, posted a 77 and was tied for 133rd. He hit the water the 17th and 18th holes to finish with back-to-back double bogeys, shooting 5-over 41 on the back.
Masters champion Bubba Watson, who can be No. 1 by finishing solo second or winning, carded a 69 and was tied for 19th.
Phil Mickelson, who has not recorded a top-10 finish in 11 events this season, struggled to a 75 that included bogeys on three of his last five holes and was tied for 111th.