Sergio Garcia found his long-lost putting touch to take the clubhouse lead with a sizzling first round at the €6m Players Championship today.
Spaniard Garcia has been extremely quiet since his play-off loss to Padraig Harrington at last year’s Open, but took advantage of idyllic morning conditions at Sawgrass.
On a course he says reminds him of Valderrama, Garcia gathered seven birdies in a six-under-par 66, leading Americans Kenny Perry and Paul Goydos by two strokes with half the field back in the clubhouse, while Ian Poulter was best of the small British contingent on 69.
“I played very smart, hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens, and I made some good putts,” said Garcia, last year’s runner-up.
“I’ve been close two or three times here so I’m looking forward to giving myself plenty more chances.”
Poor putting has been driving Garcia, who has not won since 2005, crazy with frustration the past few years, but he feels he is on the right track after recently starting to work with short game guru Stan Utley, a former touring pro.
“My main idea was to get back to the way I used to putt 10 or 12 years ago, when I was a good putter,” he added.
“We try not to get too technical. I’m very excited about how my game is coming along.”
Meanwhile Poulter, out in the first threesome of the day off the 10th tee, got to four under at the turn before making two straight bogeys.
“I made a couple of bogeys, which was frustrating, but you’re going to make a couple of mistakes around this course and the mistakes I made were just single bogeys, which is nice, since I have been making double bogeys of late,” said the 32-year-old.
“I have been making an awful lot of bogeys lately. Last week I made 17 birdies and one eagle and shot two under, which is insane.”
Poulter’s first bogey, at his 12th hole, was a three-putt which he described as a “silly mental error”. At the next hole he yanked a pitch from only 84 yards into a greenside bunker.
This week’s tournament is the richest in golf, but it also offers something else that has not gone unnoticed by Poulter.
“There are huge world ranking points and obviously that will contribute to the Ryder Cup standings, and that’s obviously what I’m playing for this year, to make the side,” he said.
Meanwhile, Irishman Harrington holed a monster putt from off the green at the last to salvage a reasonable 72, but it was not a good morning for England’s Brian Davis, a 77 leaving him near the back of the field.
At least Davis made it to the starting line, unlike Masters champion Trevor Immelman, who pulled out after falling ill overnight.
He began vomiting during the night and decided to return to home to Orlando, a two-hour drive down the road in central Florida.
The South African had already scheduled the next two weeks off to rest up after a busy post-Masters schedule.