Unheralded Chad Ramey outplayed the world’s best golfers in the first round of “The Fifth Major.”
The 30-year-old Ramey posted a bogey-free, eight-under-par 64 to take a one-stroke lead over 10th-ranked Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal in the first round of the 49th edition of The Players Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
There were 21 players still on the course when darkness came and they will return Friday morning to complete their first 18 holes before round two begins.
“It’s certainly not easy,” said Ramey, who is No. 225 in the World Golf Rankings, 174th in the FedEx Cup point standings and teed it up in The Players for the first time. “I might have made it look that way, but it wasn’t easy at all. It was fun, the first time to shoot a score like that on such an iconic course like this. You can’t ask for any more.
“There’s always nerves, but it’s just, they don’t mean anything. It kind of means you care. You’ve just got to deal with them. That’s why we play the game. It’s why we’re here is to have those nerves. Just kind of push past them, push them aside and just do what you’ve got to do.
“My game has really felt close. I know the scores haven’t shown it, but it’s felt really close. I just made one little tweak in my swing, and it really seems to be paying off.”
Ramey, whose only professional victories came in the 2022 Corales Puntacana Championship on the PGA Tour and the 2021 Live and Work in Maine Open on the Korn Ferry Tour, birdied four of the first seven holes, plus the first two and the last two on the back nine in his 64. He hit his tee shot to within inches of the hole at famed No. 17 with the island green and tapped in.
Morikawa, who claimed the last of his five PGA Tour victories in the 2021 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s in Kent, England, highlighted his bogey-free 65 with a four-foot eagle putt on the second hole and added three birdies while finishing on the front nine.
“I’m back to playing how I used to and I’m trying to enjoy it,” said Morikawa, who worked hard on his game after missing the cut in the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week. “What I found earlier this week is that my swing hasn’t looked this good probably since 2019 when I first came out on Tour. I played very well (in) 2020, 2021, but position-wise, I just love where I’m at right now.
“I wasn’t going to do anything last weekend after missing the cut, but then as it turned out I worked very hard on Saturday and Sunday, and things were definitely getting better. Then, I found something on Monday that made me feel the way I did a few years ago and I used that today. Now, I just have to keep on going with it.”
Taylor Pendrith of Canada sank an eight-foot eagle putt at No. 16 and added two birdies on each nine in a 67 and is tied for third with Ben Griffin, who birdied his last three holes in another 67, and Justin Suh of San Jose and USC, who was 5-under through 15 holes when the end came and will be looking at a 29-foot eagle putt on No. 16 when he returns in the morning.
Second-ranked Scottie Scheffler, who can regain the No. 1 ranking with a victory this week, collected five birdies on the back nine in a 68 and is in a big tie for sixth with Min Woo Lee of South Korea, who made seven birdies; Denny McCarthy, who had four birdies coming home; Christiaan Bezuidenhout of South Africa, who sank a nine-foot eagle putt at No. 11; Adam Svensson of Canada, who had three straight birdies through No. 17, and Sam Burns, who made three birdies on each nine.
Top-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain in tied for 32nd after making only one bogey in a 71, fourth-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA shot 72 and is a tie for 49th that includes sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State, and seventh-ranked Max Homa of Valencia and Cal; while ninth-ranked Justin Thomas is tied for 72nd at 73, eighth-ranked Will Zalatoris shot 74 and is tied for 94th, and third-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland struggled to a 76 and is tied for 118th.
Hayden Buckley hit the shot of the day, making a hole-in-one with a pitching wedge on the island green at the 125-yard 17th hole. It was the second ace of his career the 11th in the history of the famous hole, and a bit later he became the first golfer in Players Championship history to go ace-birdie on the last two holes as he finished a tie for 72nd at 73.
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