Surprises, changes and upsets at THE PLAYERS (Thursday update)

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You never know who you will see at a golf tournament. David Love III greeted fans for a while at his gate. Give him credit. It was a cool thing to do. I guess he figured, how many guys have a gate named for them?

Spectating has changed for the better in a couple of locations on the front nine. What used to be dirt or grass along the side of the fourth hole is now a very nice cart path that you can walk all the way from the tee area up to the fifth hole.

And here’s a tip for when you get to the fork in the road, actually the fork in the cart path:

If you take the left fork, you will walk away from the left side of the fourth and fifth holes, and you won’t be able to get to the fifth for a while. You will, however, walk right by the practice area that’s at the back of the range. If you like to watch your favorite player and don’t see him on the regular part of the range, just stroll down the fourth and take the left fork and maybe you’ll find him there.

If you take the right fork of the cart path, you’ll end up on the left side of the fifth hole.

It’s a much better and safer walk because those mounds could be slippery when dried out and muddy when wet.

Now, the sixth and seventh don’t have the mound any more, but the reported ability to watch golf shots from an area that is expanded between six and seven near the seventh tee isn’t really much to write home about, pardon my preposition ending. The smart move for the seventh might be to make it an elevated tee and let fans walk underneath it like they do at the sixth hole at Augusta National. Fans could see the tee shot and then walk unobstructed to the right side of No. 7.

Alternatively, shorten up the lake along the sixth tee side and let people walk there to view the second shots on seven. They would not be able to see action all the way down the sixth, however. Typically going to the sixth green and seventh tee is for serious fans, media who need to be there and friends or family members of players. When it’s hot, the air gets trapped back there. Between the lack of wind, the smell of smoke and pine straw, it was a bit stifling. You have been warned.

Later, we’ll review the back nine changes and what it means to you for the weekend.

Round One Updates

The 17th hole, long the nemesis of professionals and amateurs alike, lived up to its reputation for behaving badly. Vijay Singh, now playing mainly on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, had a 2-under 70. He was a victim of the 17th with a ball in the water and a double bogey five. Without that, he would be in second place. 50 must truly be the new 40.

The 17th was not the only hole that gave pros fits. Jim Furyk and Billy Horschel both bogeyed the 18th. Furyk, the next Ryder Cup captain, finished with a 73, and Horschel had a 75.

Defending champ Jason Day was on the leaderboard early and got to 5-under par through 11 holes, starting on the back side. Then he ran into bogey trouble at the sixth, seventh and ninth. He finished 2-under.

“I was thinking actually 7-8-under after the second hole, and I did give myself opportunities coming in. I just, unfortunately, had a couple of mistakes,” he explained. He hit a 4-iron off the 12th tee.

Phil Mickelson was, as usual, up and down. Starting at the 10th, he had a bogey at the opening hole, then birdied the 11th, the 14th and eagled the 16th. Unfortunately, he bogeyed the 18th. He did not play any practice rounds.

“I was going to play it Tuesday, and I had something on Monday where I was out playing, and I was just a little tired,” he explained, adding that he decided to give himself Tuesday off. “And then I was going to go out Wednesday and I just thought, gosh, if I walk around in the heat, I’ll get tired.”

He said the 12th was a little different.

In making eagle at the 16th, he described his tee shot as an Augusta 13 drive, a rounded slice.

“It doesn’t go very far, but it fits right into that fairway,” he explained. “I’m hitting to a little bit fatter fairway. I’ve got 204 front, 205 hole and it was 211 to get past all the carry on the right.”

He said his second shot was a little cut 5-iron where he opened the face and hit a shot that came in lower and spins more. Ho-hum, he made the putt for eagle.

As for the condition of the course, he said, “It’s faster and firmer and the misses are magnified, and it’s very difficult to get up-and-down around the greens.”

When Mickelson says it’s tough to get up-and-down, listen to that.

On the front side, Mickelson had birdies at the second, fifth and eighth and a bogey at the seventh and a double at the third. He finished at 2-under par 70.

“I’m happy because I’ve been a lot worse the last few years, so under par is good,” he added.

He predicted more bogeys and doubles.

Rickie Fowler also finished 2-under with a tale of two nines. He was 2-under on the front, and 2-over on the back, in that gaggle of guys at 70.

Experts’ picks were not fairing well. David Duval on Golf Channel picked Sergio Garcia to win. Garcia shot 40 on the front.

Frank Nobilo’s choice of Jordan Spieth didn’t look great by the end of round one. Spieth shot a 73 and had an unfortunate lie in a bunker caused by bad raking. He took a photo of it to have for the tournament staff.

“From that lie, I had no chance,” Spieth said after his round.

Brandel Chamblee’s pick, Jon Rahm, was looking better halfway through the afternoon scores. Rahm was at 1-under par.

My own pick of Dustin Johnson was equal to Frank Nobilo’s pick of Spieth half way through the round. Johnson was 1-over par.

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