Hideki Matsuyama of Japan became the ninth player to shoot the course record of 9-under-par 63 in the first round of the 47th Players Championship, making a 25-foot eagle putt on his last hole, but he wasn’t the big news of the day.
Commissioner Jay Monahan announced during play that in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, that PGA Tour would have no fans in attendance at its events beginning on Friday and running at least through the Valero Texas Open on April 2-5, a week before the Masters.
Several hours later, the PGA Tour announced that is was canceling the rest of the Players, plus the Valspar Championship, the WGC-Dell Technologies Championship and the Valero Texas Open the next three weeks.
The Corrales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship already had been canceled.
“We have pledged from the start to be responsible, thoughtful and transparent with our decision process,” said the statement, which promised more information on Friday.
“We did everything possible to create a safe environment for our players in order to continue the event throughout the weekend, and we were endeavoring to give our fans a much-needed respite from the current climate. But at this point–and as the situation continues to rapidly change–the right thing to do for our players and our fans is to pause.”
It is the first time PGA Tour events have been cancelled, other than for bad weather, since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Matsuyama held his two-stroke lead over Si Woo Kim of South Korea, Harris English and Christiaan Bezuidenhout of South Africa at TPC Sawgrass https://tpc.com/sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
“It’s a shame the fans will not be around here,” Matsuyama said through an interpreter when his morning round was over. “It will be something new for all of us. The PGA Tour is just doing what’s best for us and for our safety. We just have to go out there and do our best.
“ … I knew if I made that eagle putt (while finishing on the ninth hole) I would be close to a course record and I’m happy it went in. I made a lot of quality putts. The greens were very receptive, which gave me a lot of birdie putts and they all went in. I didn’t miss a thing.”
Matsuyama started on the 10th hole and opened with four straight birdies, carded his only bogey at No. 16 and added four more birdies on the front nine, including three in a row through No. 7 before closing with his eagle.
Kim, the 2017 Players champion, started on the back nine and chipped in from 55 yards for an eagle on the 11th hole and made six birdies in a 65, while English collected four birdies on each nine and Bezuidenhout posted a bogey-free round that included three straight birdies through No. 6.
English missed only three greens in regulation and said: “That’s huge out here. A course like Sawgrass is one of the tougher ones we play all year tee to green and if you’re not hitting it well, it’s going to be tough to get around this place.”
Sixth-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA had six birdies in a 67 and is tied for fifth with Marc Leishman of Australia, who birdied four of his first six holes and capped his round with 21-foot eagle on the ninth hole.
Seventh-ranked Webb Simpson, the 2018 Players champ, shot 68 and is in a huge tie for seventh with Cameron Champ of Sacramento, Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal, Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, Scottie Scheffler, Rory Sabbatini of Slovakia, Daniel Berger, Michael Thompson, Jason Dufner, Corey Conners of Canada, Nate Lashley, Keith Mitchell, Viktor Hovland of Norway, Jim Herman and Rafa Cabrera-Bello of Spain.
Second-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain is tied for 22nd at 69, while third-ranked Brooks Koepka shot 70 and is in a tie for 37th that includes fifth-ranked Dustin Johnson and ninth-ranked Adam Scott of Australia, the 2004 Players champion.
Fourth-ranked Justin Thomas totaled 71 to tie for 63rd, defending champion and top-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland is tied for 83rd at 72, eighth-ranked Patrick Reed finished at 73 and is tied for 98th, and 10th-ranked Tommy Fleetwood of England struggled to a 78 and is tied for 140th.
C.T. Pan of Taiwan withdrew because of fear over the Coronavirus and was replaced in the field by Brendan Steele of Idyllwild and UC Riverside, while Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa withdrew after seven holes because of a shoulder injury.
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