Kaymer shoots 63, grabs early Players lead
Ponte Vedra Beach, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Martin Kaymer fired a course- record tying 9-under 63 on Thursday to claim a 2-stroke lead after the opening round of the Players Championship.
His 63 included a course-record 29 on the front nine. Kaymer, who is a 10-time winner on the European Tour, earned his lone victory on the PGA Tour at the 2010 PGA Championship.
"Ballstriking-wise, that's one of the best rounds I've ever played," said Kaymer.
Russell Henley carded a 7-under 65 on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass to sit alone in second place, while Sang-Moon Bae shot a 6-under 66 to own sole possession of third.
Sergio Garcia, the 2008 Players champion, and defending U.S. Open winner Justin Rose highlighted a group of eight players tied for fourth at 5-under 67. They were joined by Lee Westwood, Jordan Spieth, Scott Stallings, Brian Stuard, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Gary Woodland.
Former Players Championship winner Justin Leonard carded a 4-under 68 and was tied with Ernie Els, Dustin Johnson, Bill Haas, Scott Brown, Joost Luiten and Pat Perez for 12th place.
Kaymer started on the back nine and parred the 10th before converting a 4-foot birdie at the 11th. He later added another gain at the 15th to move to 2-under and closed his outward nine with three straight pars.
The German then caught fire around the turn, starting with a 26-foot birdie putt at the first. He followed that with a birdie at the second and reached 5- under with a 14-foot birdie putt at the fourth.
After parring the fifth, Kaymer kicked in a 2-foot birdie at the sixth and met Henley atop the leaderboard with another gain at the seventh.
Kaymer was not done there, however, as he converted a 17-foot birdie putt at the eighth to claim the outright lead and needing a birdie at the last to match the course's nine-hole record, Kaymer blasted out of a greenside bunker to within two feet and rolled in his closing birdie to move two clear of Henley.
"I didn't make many mistakes today, which was nice," said Kaymer. "Fortunately I could take advantage of some putts on my back nine, on the front nine, on the golf course. It was just a very, very good round of golf."
Bae followed with one of the last groups of the day and started fast with a birdie at the first and a 5-foot eagle at the second.
He gave one of those shots back with a bogey at the fifth, but again reached 3-under with a short birdie putt at the ninth.
Back-to-back gains from inside 10 feet at the 11th and 12th moved him to 5- under, and he 2-putted for birdie at the 16th to reach minus-6. He parred his final two holes to remain there.
Henley had earlier opened his round with a 17-foot birdie putt at the first. After parring the second, he rolled in back-to-back birdies at the third and fourth to quickly reach 3-under.
He later found the water off the tee at the seventh before 3-putting for a double-bogey 6, dropping him back to 1-under.
But Henley would not drop another shot for the remainder of the day and caught fire during an inward 30 to race to the top of the leaderboard.
His run started with a 12-foot birdie putt at the 10th, and he would continue to make it three gains in a row at the 11th and 12th to reach minus-4.
He met clubhouse leaders Fernandez-Castano, Westwood and Stuard with a 5-foot birdie at the 15th before pulling ahead with a 2-putt birdie at the 16th.
Henley then stuck his tee shot at the 17th island green to five feet and converted that birdie effort to reach 7-under. He parred the last to end there and claim the outright lead before being surpassed by Kaymer in the afternoon.
"I knew I was playing well and felt really comfortable on the greens," said Henley. "As long as I keep feeling comfortable with the putter, I think I can putt well on these greens."
NOTES: Kaymer joins Roberto Castro (2013), Greg Norman (1994) and Fred Couples (1992) as the only people to shoot 63 at the Players Championship ... Kaymer holds the 18-hole lead for the first time on the PGA Tour ... The last first- round leader to go on and win the Players was Garcia in 2008 ... Henley already has one win career at TPC Sawgrass, collecting the title at the Web.com Tour's Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open in 2012 on the Dye's Valley Course ... Phil Mickelson, who won here in 2007, carded a career-worst 3-over 75 in the first round. He has not finished inside the top 10 at TPC Sawgrass since his victory.
05/08 20:44:12 ET