12 March 2020: In a rousing start to the PGA TOUR’s flagship event, Hideki Matsuyama discovered some of his finest form for a spectacular 63 in the opening round. The Japanese fired straight off the blocks, posting four straight birdies from the 10th and never really looked back. Christiaan Bezuidenhout shot a spotless 65 to gain a share of second place with Harris English.
Matsuyama suffered a bogey on the par-5 16th hole, but a hat-trick of birdies from the fifth hole and a spectacular eagle on the ninth secured him a two-stroke advantage. The effort tied the course record, marking the ninth 63 in the history of THE PLAYERS Championship. Brooks Koepka in the final round of 2018 and Webb Simpson on Friday of the same event were the last two men to accomplish the feat.
At the 16th, Matsuyama found the water with his second but got away with a bogey. “I didn’t have the greatest warm-up this morning, but once play started I got into it, I got into a good groove,” he said after the round.
“I’ve been working hard and have a lot of confidence now in my swing,” Matsuyama added. “Today I made some putts and that seems to be the difference of late. That was really the catapult to me to have a good round today.”
The Japanese golfer hasn’t won a title since 2017, but he already has four top-10 finishes and looks all set to regain the kind of form that catapulted him to international fame a few years ago.
Meanwhile, the Commissioner of the PGA TOUR announced that the show must go on, despite growing concerns over the rampant spread of COVID-19 across the United States and the world. “PGA TOUR events – across all Tours – will currently proceed as scheduled, but will do so without fans,” said Jay Monahan, from a prepared speech. “This policy starts at THE PLAYERS Championship tomorrow (Friday) and continues through the Valero Texas Open. It’s important to note, that could change, but for the time being, this decision allows the PGA TOUR, our fans and constituents to plan, prepare and respond as events develop.”
“I’ve never played a TOUR event like we were going to play tomorrow with no fans,” said Phil Mickelson (75), making the 623rd start of his TOUR career. “It will be a very weird experience, and I feel bad for the people here that have supported this tournament for so many decades to not be able to come on out. But this is a pretty serious thing.”