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Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. • Roberto Castro made a debut he won't soon forget in The Players Championship, opening with a 9-under 63 Thursday to tie the course record at the TPC Sawgrass and build a three-shot lead over Rory McIlroy and other early starters.
Facing the infamous island-green on No. 17 for the first time in competition, Castro left a 9-iron within a foot of the hole. On the daunting 18th, he hit 4-iron to a foot. When his day was over, Castro was in the record book with Greg Norman and Fred Couples for lowest score on the Stadium Course.
"I hit it close a lot," said Castro, making it sound as easy as it looked.
Sawgrass finally made sense to McIlroy, too.
The two-time major champion had never made the cut or even broken par at The Players Championship, but the 24-year-old figured it out on a gorgeous morning by dialing it back off the tee and letting his iron play take over. McIlroy never came seriously close to a bogey on his way to a 66, leaving him tied with Zach Johnson.
McIlroy didn't hit driver once on the front nine, including the par-5 ninth. He made up his mind during practice that he gets into more trouble trying to reach the green in two, so he is playing short and relying on his wedge. He still made par on No. 9, but he stuck to his strategy.
"When you hit the shots, it seems very simple," McIlroy said. "I had a lot of good shots out there, lot of iron shots that were 12, 15 feet away from the pin and I got myself a lot of looks for birdies. I adopted maybe more of a conservative strategy off the tee this year. But once you put your ball in the fairway that means you can be more aggressive into the greens. So it sort of balances itself out."
The Players Championship
Roberto Castro -9
Zach Johnson -6
Rory McIlroy -6
Tiger Woods -5
Daniel Summerhays -3