Gary Van Sickle LIVE from The Players Championship

Among the spectators greeting competitors during the first round of the 50th edition of The Players Championship was the inaugural winner of the event Jack Nicklaus.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida — Just so you know, it wasn’t all sunshine, lollipops and equity shares during Thursday’s Round One at The Players Championship.

Adam Hadwin clinched a certain spot in ESPN’s highlights when his approach shot at 18 went too far left and rolled off the green, over railroad ties and into the lake. The Canadian promptly showed Olympic-like discus form by helicoptering the offending iron into the water. Too bad we don’t have Trackman data on the toss. It had good height, distance and trajectory but the clubface looked a little open at impact… as it struck the water.

Adam Hadwin tossed a club deep into the lake at 18th hole at TPC Sawgrass.

He did well to salvage a bogey but after a double bogey at the infamous par-3 17th, where he also found water, it was the kind of finish that makes even a professional want to fire a club to Patagonia. Hadwin posted a 75 which, on a day of prime scoring, was more like shooting 80.

Well, golf is a savage game of what-ifs. What if Hadwin finishes birdie-birdie instead of water-water? He shoots 70, very respectable.

Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele, who led the morning wave with stellar 65s, could play the what-if game, too—in different directions.

McIlroy’s round featured two water balls or could have been much lower. Schauffele had no bogeys but got away with two errant shots that easily could have been double bogeys. The golf gods give and the golf gods take away. (In your case, it’s always the latter. Find yourself a good golf attorney.)

Xander Schauffele lit up the TPC Sawgrass course posting 78-under 65 for a share of first place after day one.

No player makes the game look easier than McIlroy when he’s on. Last week, he became the first player to drive Bay Hill’s 401-yard 10th green. Thursday, he had media observers on 59 Watch after he played the first eight holes in 6 under par and was 10 under through 15.

His driver behaved beautifully until the 18th hole, his ninth hole, where he pulled his drive left into the water hazard and made bogey after a superlative 3-wood shot onto the green. McIlroy made three more birdies until he reached the seventh hole, where he pulled another drive left that bounced short of a bunker and into a lateral water hazard. That led to a double bogey.

It was an outstanding round except for those two swings. Enter Captain What-If. “It would be nice to shoot 62 and not have two in the water,” McIlroy said with a laugh.

While McIlroy’s 65 could be described as disappointing, at least from his viewpoint, Schauffele’s score was bonus material.

Schauffele lost his drive to the right at the par-4 fifth hole and the ball luckily hung up in deep grass that prevented it from rolling into a water hazard. The ball was inside the hazard line, Schauffele had an awkward stance and a difficult lie and, having just birdied four of his last five holes, it was no problem. He dropped an iron shot to three feet for another birdie. If that drive finds the water, he is likely making at least a bogey.

Two holes later, Schauffele pushed a drive into some pine straw and leaves in the right trees. Just chipping out sideways looked fairly challenging so Schauffele lifted an 8-iron shot through a window in the trees above and got it back to the fairway, 50 yards short of the green. A deft pitch to four feet led to clutch par. But if that shot doesn’t find that window, well…

“I would not want to hit that shot again,” Schauffele said after his round. “I could live with the hero shot versus messing up the pitch-out and chipping again.”

Inquiring minds wanted to know how big was the window he hit the 8-iron through and what kind of success rate he’d have if he tried that risky shot 100 times. “Maybe 30 percent,” he said.

The Players Championship still has 54 holes to go but file this info in your What-if folder in case Schauffele or McIlroy end up winning—or not winning—this tournament by a couple of shots. What happens on Thursdays matters.
You can’t win a tournament on Thursday but you can throw your chances away. And sometimes, a lake gets in the way.

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