Date: March 15, 2019
Author: Mark Hayes

Aussies flat as big birds soar at Players

There were eagles, a hole-in-one on the island hole and there was even an albatross, but there was only limited joy for the Aussie contingent as The Players Championship began in Florida today.

As the US PGA Tour’s flagship event moved back to March for the first time in 13 years, the TPC Sawgrass course presented a greener and decidedly softer face.

And while it meant more attackable pins for those whose games were on song, it also presented a longer challenge for those not at their best, with a wide disparity of scoring and some typically large Players hole scores.

England’s Tommy Fleetwood and American Keegan Bradley both carded rounds of seven-under-par 65 to lead by a stroke from Korean Ben An and American left-hander Brian Harman.

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy is alongside two players at five under in a share of fifth, including Americans Vaughan Taylor and Ryan Moore, who fired the ninth ace in Players history at the famous 17th.

But among the victims of the notorious island hole was Australian Marc Leishman, who made a birdie with his second ball to score a bogey four and minimise the damage.

Leishman eventually signed for a 71 after being out in three under, but giving up two shots and not making a birdie on what is regarded as easier back nine.

He trails fellow Aussies Jason Day and Adam Scott, the latter of whom was impressive late with five birdies in his closing 10 holes.

Cam Smith made a birdie on the island hole, but gave it back on the last to card a 72, while the in-form Aaron Baddeley made a mess of the par-five ninth with an eight that pre-empted a disappointing back nine that included four bogeys en route to a 75.

American Dustin Johnson looked ominous after playing the back nine first and turning in four under, but could only manage eight pars and a closing bogey on the ninth to shoot a 69.

But his nearest rival in the race to be world No.1, England’s Justin Rose, had a wild front nine after opening on the 10th and having nine straight pars.

Rose’s trials included a triple-bogey seven on the first, including taking six shots after his second went into a short-sided bunker less than 10m from the pin.

He made three birdies on the front side, but remarkably also hit a second shot 55m off target on the par-four fifth to induce another double-bogey as part of his 74.

American Harris English had an albatross with his 215m second shot on the par-5 11th hole, the third straight year the rare bird has flown in the tournament.