PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Martin Kaymer missed only two fairways and putted for birdie on all but one hole on his way into the record book Thursday in The Players Championship.
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.
Davis High graduate Nick Watney is eight strokes back after an up-and-down round that eventually finished at 1-under 71. Watney birdied six holes, but also had a double-bogey on No. 14 and was tie for 48th after Day 1.
Kaymer and others 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 a 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 a 29 on the back, the first player in the 32-year history at Sawgrass to break 30 on either nine.
Roberto Castro also 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.
Henley, who won the Honda Classic in a four-way playoff in March, made birdie on half of his holes to atone for one big mistake. He hooked a tee shot into the water on No. 7 and compounded that with a three-putt for double bogey. But he answered with six birdies on the back nine for a 65.
Bae Sang-Moon had a 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.
And he had loads of company. Lee Westwood, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose also were at 67. The group at 68 included Ernie Els and Dustin Johnson. There were 67 rounds under par, and the scoring average of 71.99 was the eighth-lowest for an opening round at The Players Championship.
But it wasn’t easy for everyone.
Rory McIlroy made three bogeys over his last seven holes and tumbled to a 70. That was nearly as bad as Phil Mickelson. Coming off a 76 in the final round at Quail Hollow last week, he started his round by missing a 3-foot par putt and shot 75.