Ramey grabs Players lead in his debut at golf’s fickle test

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Chad Ramey managed to escape the stress and horror of Thursday’s 8-64 Players Championship, making him an unlikely leader on a TPC Sawgrass field that rarely fails to surprise.

Ramy had a one-time advantage over two-time world champion Collin Morikawa in soft conditions. Approximately half of the field was at par or better.

That doesn’t mean it didn’t have drama.

Hayden Buckley ace the famous Island Green in 17th, a hole he’d only seen on TV until he arrived this week for his Players Championship debut.

Aaron Wise lost four balls in two holes – in the water on the 17th, and then three straight tees in the drinking left of the 18th fairway, where he closed with 10, one short of the record for the highest hitting a closing hole.

Rory McIlroy scored the highest score in just over a year. The 2019 Players champion opened at 6, closed at 6 and was fairly ordinary on its way to 76.

Ramy had no such problems, birding all but two of his holes in slightly calmer morning conditions.

“Maybe I did it, but it wasn’t easy at all,” Ramey said. “It was fun. It was the first time we scored points on an iconic field like this. You can’t ask for more.”

Ramy qualified for his first Players Championship by beating a weak opponent opposite the Dell Match Play in the Dominican Republic last year.

He believes that he belongs and can defeat anyone, even the strongest opponent of the year. His track record does not suggest this, even with the victory. Since then, in his 28 starts, Ramy has missed 18 cuts and failed to finish in the top 20 at other tournaments.

“The game felt very close,” Ramey said. “I know the score didn’t show it, but I felt it was really close. I just tweaked my swings a bit and it seems to be really paying off. I kind of hit the ball where I was looking most of the day and then whenever I got out of position I came back pretty good.”

Morikawa has missed two cuts in his last three starts, a rarity for him, and has spent overtime on his off-days trying to find the fading that got him to such early success. He thinks he swings it just as well now as he did a few years ago.

His signature throw was 4 irons at 3 feet for an eagle on the second par 5 hole, his 11th of the day, and was made during an eight-hole stretch that he played 6 under par. Morikawa also played without a scarecrow, key to the course, which can strike without warning.

“The game seems really good and I’m just going to use that in the next few days and just use that momentum to hopefully play three more really good rounds,” he said.

Taylor Pendrit and Ben Griffin were at 67 while Justin Suh was also 5 down with three holes to finish the game before darkness put play on hold.

Scotty Sheffler led the group at the age of 68. He was part of an outstanding group of three of the best players in the world – No. 1 John Rahm had 71 and McIlroy No. 3. All of them have a chance to finish at No. 1 even without a win.

Otherwise, it was an eclectic mix of players aged 69 and over, which is not unusual for a Players Stadium field. It ranged from rookies like Ramy and Min Woo Lee to major champions like Scheffler and Justin Rose (69) and Jordan Spieth (69).

Spieth narrowly missed The Players in his debut match in 2014, losing to Martin Kaimer. He missed in five of the last seven matches.

“It’s just one of those places where a lot of times I thought my game was really good, and then I look at the board and think, ‘Yeah. I’m not even in the top 10.” That’s what this tournament was like for me,” he said.

Xander Schauffele finished second on his debut (four shots behind) and then missed out on the next three matches. He looked like he was headed for another early bust when he had 4 overs through 10 holes and only had three pair on his card. But he followed it up with an eagle on the 11th and added three more birds to get back to 72.

The 17th hole had a front pin that wasn’t usually seen until the Saturday round and it was a lot of excitement, both good and bad. Buckley tossed his cap into the air after his ball rolled down the slope into the cup.

Kelly Kraft hit the water twice on his way to a quad ghost 7. He had 80 and was one of only four players to throw 80 or higher. Weather conditions did not give such an assessment. The nature of the course allows you to do this almost every year.

“You just don’t have a lot of holes to sort of slide down,” Sam Burns said after his 68. “Here, every hit gets your attention.”


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