(Reuters) – American William McGirt and Canadian Mackenzie Hughes shared the first round lead at The Players Championship on Thursday after Adam Scott dropped four strokes in the final two holes at Ponte Vedra, Florida.
Australian Scott led at six-under heading to the famous island-green par-three 17th, but his tee shot found the water only a moment after U.S. Masters champion Sergio Garcia had made a hole-in-one.
More water trouble at the par-four 18th led to another double-bogey, leaving former world number one Scott three strokes behind.
When the dust settled, McGirt and Hughes headed the deepest field of the year at five-under-par 67 on a sizzling hot day at TPC Sawgrass.
McGirt, boosted by two eagles, put his previous bad form at Sawgrass behind him on a course where he has finished no better than 43rd in four previous starts.
He made his first eagle with a 55-foot putt at the par-five 11th before sinking a 10-footer at the par-five 16th.
“Two good yardages, two good shots and two good putts,” he said after becoming the sixth player to record two eagles on the back nine in the same round at The Players.
McGirt is no fan of the course, believing it has too much of a luck factor.
“The thing with this place is you hit one that lands four, five feet off the putting surface, there’s no telling what’s going to happen to it,” said the 37-year-old journeyman, who secured his maiden PGA Tour victory last year at the Memorial tournament.
“So it’s a matter of getting away with somehow getting lucky when you do miss a shot. That’s the way this golf course is.”
Hughes, meanwhile, became the first player since Jordan Spieth in 2014 to go bogey-free in his first round at the tournament.
“I wouldn’t have expected a round like that, but I knew my game was trending,” said the 26-year-old from Ontario, like McGirt, a one-time PGA Tour winner.
“It wasn’t perfect golf, but I managed it really well and made a few nice saves when I needed to and made a few nice putts.”
Among the big names, defending champion Jason Day struggled with three bogeys in his final four holes to finish level with compatriot Scott at two-under 70.
“I was thinking actually seven (or) eight-under after (my 11th hole) and I did give myself opportunities coming in, just, unfortunately, had a couple of mistakes,” Day told reporters.
World number one Dustin Johnson shot 71, while Rory McIlroy missed a two-foot tap-in at the 10th hole en route to a 73 in his first start as a married man. Garcia also shot 71, thanks in no small measure to his ace at the 17th.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Larry Fine / Ian Ransom)