Hughes shares lead at Play­ers Cham­pi­onship

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DOUG FER­GU­SON

PONTE VE­DRA BEACH, FLA. — Cana­dian rookie and Dun­das’ Macken­zie Hughes played bo­gey-free in his de­but at The Play­ers Cham­pi­onship golf tour­na­ment and shot 5un­der 67 to share the lead with Wil­liam McGirt af­ter an open­ing round that showed anew that the TPC Saw­grass has sur­prises around ev­ery cor­ner.

No one knows bet­ter than Adam Scott, the 2004 cham­pion who had a one-shot lead go­ing into par-3 17th hole. First, he watched Masters cham­pion Ser­gio Gar­cia sal­vage his poor round by mak­ing a hole-in­one at the in­fa­mous is­land green. Scott fol­lowed by spin­ning a shot off the bank and into the wa­ter for a dou­ble bo­gey, and he com­pounded that with another dou­ble bo­gey.

“I played some good golf out there and un­for­tu­nately not on the last two,” Scott said af­ter set­tling for a 70. “It hap­pens.”

At least he had com­pany. Dustin John­son’s first wedge of the way hit the pin, car­omed off the green and led to bo­gey. On a day when noth­ing seemed to go his way, the world’s No. 1 player opened with a 71. Rory McIl­roy went to tap in from 2 feet and missed it, and then had to make one twice that long for his dou­ble bo­gey on the 10th hole. He shot 73.

Through it all, Hughes was rock solid. Only twice did he have par putts longer than 3 feet, and he made them both. The Play­ers Sta­dium Course must be some kind of easy, eh? Hughes laughed and shook his head. “No. It’s very hard.”

McGirt played in morn­ing and made a pair of ea­gles on the back nine to atone in his round of 67.

Among those at 68 was Jon Rahm, another first-timer at this lu­cra­tive event who had one of four bo­gey-free rounds on the steamy day in north Florida. Even with a mild wind in the af­ter­noon, just over one-third of the field broke par.

Fast starts and bad fin­ishes were the norm, and not just for Scott.

De­fend­ing cham­pion Ja­son Day ran off two straight birdies af­ter mak­ing the turn and was in the lead at 5 un­der, which for the for­mer world No. 1 was a pe­cu­liar po­si­tion. He hasn’t won since The Play­ers last year. Day, how­ever, made three bo­geys over his last four holes and had to set­tle for a 70.

He was play­ing in the same group as Rickie Fowler, the 2015 cham­pion who also got off to a fast start un­til one bad shot — a re­ally bad shot — on his 15th hole at the par-4 sev­enth. From the mid­dle of the fair­way, Fowler blocked it so badly to the right that it hit a cart path and went deep into the pines. It took him two shots to get out and he made dou­ble bo­gey. Fowler also shot 70.

Gar­cia’s round was dif­fer­ent. He made three bo­geys and a dou­ble bo­gey in his open­ing six holes and went out in 40, the first nine holes of com­pe­ti­tion he has played since win­ning the Masters a month ago. He felt nerves on the first tee when he was in­tro­duced as the Masters cham­pion.

“The feel­ing was great,” he said. “I think I wasn’t quite in the tour­na­ment be­cause of every­thing that’s been go­ing on af­ter the Masters win ... I felt like I was a lit­tle bit up in the clouds, and when I woke up, I was 4 over af­ter six.”

CHRIS O’MEARA, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Macken­zie Hughes of Dun­das hits from the 18th tee Thurs­day.

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