PONTE VEDRA BEACH — Once golfer Martin Kaymer stopped trying to be perfect, he set a standard for excellence at the Players Championship.
Kaymer played free and easy to tie the course record with an opening-round 63 at TPC Sawgrass.
It was a nice change of pace for Kaymer, who spent the past two years over-analyzing, over-thinking and underachieving. In the process, the former world No. 1 and 2010 PGA Championship winner entered the week No. 61 in the rankings.
But for 18 holes on Thursday, Kaymer simply played golf — sublimely.
“I stopped thinking,” he said afterward. “That's the bottom line. I thought a lot the last two years about swing changes, about this and this, that every shot I made I reflected on it, what I did wrong, what I did right.”
Kaymer, 29 and a native of Germany, did little wrong to card 9-under par.
His bogey-free round featured nine birdies, including four straight birdies during a record-setting 29 on the front nine.
Kaymer enters today two shots clear of Honda Classic winner Russell Henley. He tied the previous course record with a 30 on the back nine for a 7-under 65 despite a double-bogey earlier in the round.
South Korea's Sang-Moon Bae shot 66 while a pack of big-name players at 67 included Sergio Garcia, reigning U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, Lee Westwood and 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who was bogey-free during his first professional round at designer Pete Dye's Stadium Course.
Winless since the WGC-HSBC Champions in November 2011 in China, Kaymer knows the challenge ahead the next three days. He still allowed himself a moment to enjoy his best round in 2014.
“It's really nice to play like this,” he said
Kaymer began Thursday on the par-4 10th hole and hit all but one green on his opening nine despite windier conditions than players faced during the morning wave. Yet Kaymer sat just 2-under par when he made the turn.
His putter then heated up.
Kaymer did not miss a green on the front side and made six one-putts during a scintillating stretch that left him tied with Greg Norman, Fred Couples and Roberto Castro for the course record.
“At the end of the day, it's about making the putts,” Kaymer said. “You can hit it as close as you want, but you need to finish the job.”
Kaymer entered the week after closing with consecutive 75s to tie for 18th at last week's Wells-Fargo Championship. Despite his shaky play during the weekend, it was Kaymer's best finish on Tour this season.
Kaymer, therefore, is not getting ahead of himself after his record-setting day.
“It's a special round,” he said. “The same when you shoot 3- or 4-over par, it's not normal. The normal is if you shoot something around par, or maybe a couple under.
“So I just try to stay patient. It's only the first round.”
No one knows how quickly fortunes can change at TPC Sawgrass more than Garcia, the 2008 winner.
With longtime nemesis and defending champion Tiger Woods in South Florida recovering from back surgery, Garcia put behind him memories of last year's final-round collapse with an opening round including six birdies and just one bogey.
Garcia's par 3 on the No. 17 island hole might have been the key to his round. Tied with Woods for the lead in 2013, Garcia hit two balls into the water on his way to a quadruple-bogey 7. He then made double-bogey on the 18th hole to finish six shots back.
Following Thursday's round, Garcia said last year's misfortune “did cross my mind; I'm not going to lie to you,” as he stood on the 17th tee box.
“I was trying to be positive,” he said. “It's a new year; let's improve on it. I was able to do much better there and much better on 18, so I was very happy to see that.”
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