2014 Players Championship leaderboard: Russell Henley takes early lead over Sergio Garcia, Jordan Spieth

Kevin C. Cox

The deepest field of the year has produced a loaded first page of the leaderboard early at TPC Sawgrass.

The wind is down and the greens are soft at TPC Sawgrass, so the strongest field of the PGA Tour season is going low in the opening round of The Players Championship. It was hard to keep up with all the players posting numbers in the 60s, but the a.m. pacesetter is TPC sophomore Russell Henley, who rolled in nine birdies for the clubhouse lead at 7-under.

Henley's number will almost certainly be challenged by the afternoon wave, but he's two clear of the field that went out in the morning. The UGA product has had an inconsistent season. He was barely a factor through his first nine events and two months of the year, and then all of a sudden rocketed to the top of the Honda Classic leaderboard for a late Sunday win, his second in as many years on the PGA Tour. This week, he came in off two straight missed cuts, so of course he catches fire and posts an opening-round 65, including a ridiculous record-matching 30 on the back nine.

Pete Dye's Stadium Course is certainly a modern design with some made-for-TV elements, but it's also a more unique challenge for the modern players, who can't bomb away off the tee while casting aside concerns for driving accuracy. Three of the four par-5s are reachable for everyone in the field, long and short hitters, and keeping it between the lines from tee-to-green is much more important than your regular stop on the Tour. And Henley did that perfectly, staying in play and then dropping approach shots right on top of the flagsticks from there. His putting stats are the best in the field at this point, but he didn't have to do a ton of work up on the greens. As Nick Faldo noted on the broadcast, Henley had 14 birdie tries at an average of under 10 feet.

The back nine was where he made his move to the lead, rolling in six birdies and cleaning up three pars for that inward 30. He put a cap on the round with three straight birdies on holes 10 through 12, and again on 15 through 17. His last birdie of the day may have been the prettiest, as he fired a dart into the front-left pin location on the island green.

Henley's round was impressive, but it wasn't an outlier, and some afternoon players should approach, or pass, him by the end of the day. Sergio Garcia, Jordan Spieth, and Justin Rose are among the group of eight players in the house two shots back. Here's a current snapshot of the board:

Place Player Score Thru
1 Russell Henley -7 F
T2 Lee Westwood -5 F
T2 Brian Stuard -5 F
T2 Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano -5 F *
T2 Gary Woodland -5 F
T2 Jordan Spieth -5 F *
T2 Scott Stallings -5 F
T2 Justin Rose -5 F *
T2 Sergio Garcia -5 F *
T10 Scott Brown -4 F
T10 Ernie Els -4 F
T10 Dustin Johnson -4 F *
T10 John Huh -4 7
T14 Brendon de Jonge -3 F
T14 Geoff Ogilvy -3 F
T14 Kevin Streelman -3 F
T14 Jason Dufner -3 F *
T14 Zach Johnson -3 F *
T14 Graeme McDowell -3 F *
T14 Brendan Steele -3 F *
T14 Graham DeLaet -3 F
T14 Tim Clark -3 6 *
T14 Bill Haas -3 6 *
T14 Sang-Moon Bae -3 3
T25 Martin Flores -2 F
T25 James Hahn -2 F *
T25 Brian Gay -2 F
T25 Marc Leishman -2 F
T25 Matt Jones -2 F
T25 Ryan Moore -2 F
T25 Kevin Na -2 F
T25 Rory McIlroy -2 F *
T25 Stewart Cink -2 F
T25 Camilo Villegas -2 F *
T25 Jason Kokrak -2 F *
T25 Stephen Gallacher -2 F
T25 Jeff Overton -2 9 *
T25 Pat Perez -2 8
T25 Justin Leonard -2 7
T25 Martin Kaymer -2 7 *
T25 Kevin Stadler -2 5 *
T25 Chesson Hadley -2 4 *
T25 Matt Kuchar -2 4
T25 Jimmy Walker -2 4
T45 Ryan Palmer -1 F *
T45 Michael Thompson -1 F
T45 Stuart Appleby -1 F
T45 Rory Sabbatini -1 F *
T45 Chris Kirk -1 F
T45 Bo Van Pelt -1 F

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