The morning wave at the 2013 Players Championship is wrapping up their opening round, and it's Roberto Castro who has the lead at 9-under. Castro, a relative unknown on Tour, matched the tournament course record of 63 set by two hall-of-famers, Fred Couples and Greg Norman. Since turning pro in 2007, Castro has yet to pick up a PGA Tour win after a four-time All-America college career at Georgia Tech. But Thursday's tour through TPC Sawgrass is likely his professional highlight to date.
While the entire game was clicking, Castro finished with the 63 largely due to his iron play. His approach shots were perfect all day and often left him with short birdie putts up on the green. He had to do little work with the putter on his way to the bogey-free record-tying round. On his final green, he had a makeable birdie putt inside 15 feet to break the record but sent it well past the hole on the high side. The come-backer was not a gimme, but he put it in the center to join Norman and Couples. Here's how his playing partner described the loop:
Jason Bohn on playing with Roberto Castro: "His iron play was a clinic, I mean, it was beautiful . . . I've never seen a 63 shot like that."— Alex Myers (@AlexMyers3) May 9, 2013
Three shots back of Castro in a tie for second are Rory McIlroy and Zach Johnson. McIlroy has never made the weekend in his prior three starts here, but entered the week off a solid top 10 showing at Wells Fargo. It's been a tumultuous 2013 season so far for Rory, but he's got the talent to contend on a weekly basis even when he's not playing his best. Rory lit it up early going off the back side, turning in 5-under 31 to push Castro. He picked up just one more red number coming in but is in great shape to make his first cut here after the opening round 66.
Unlike Rory, Johnson has a pretty solid history at TPC Sawgrass, finishing T2 last year behind Matt Kuchar. Zach is one of the best tee-to-green players on Tour, and rarely misses the fairway. That strength sets him up well on a course like this layout, which is tight and provides tricky sight lines off the tee. Despite that past history, however, Johnson has not played particularly well this season and talked about his inconsistent putting earlier this week. He's been unable to put everything together so far this year, but he did just that on Thursday to match McIlroy for second.
With those three atop the leaderboard, the afternoon wave, which includes Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, now hits the course. The Stadium Course is obviously benign today, with perfect scoring conditions due to the more than 10 inches of rain that hammered it recently and the slight winds out of the North. Tiger and Phil know those numbers in the mid-to-low 60s are out there, so they'll be aggressive and try to go low to match some of the rounds put on the board this morning.
Here's a snapshot of the leaderboard from the morning wave of players: