Castro Fires Course-Record-Tying 63 at Players Championship

Though there are still many holes to go, Robert Castro got off to a rousing start at the Players Championship. Golf's so-called "fifth major" began Thursday at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Castro, a 27-year-old Texan, started play on the 10th tee. The Georgia Tech grad carded five birdies on his first nine holes to make the turn in 5-under 31, then eagled the par-5 second (his 11th) at the Pete Dye-designed course before tacking on two more birdies for a 32 on his home half.

Castro's 63 matched the course and tournament record, set by Fred Couples and Greg Norman in 1992 and 1994, respectively. "It was a fun day," Castro told

How fun was it? Castro missed only one fairway, hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation and needed only 26 putts for the early first-round lead in the $9.5 million event. "I hit it close a lot," he added.

He also became the 75th player in the history of the Players Championship to birdie each hole in the Stadium course's "Gauntlet" - Nos. 16, 17 and 18. But, as it turns out, such a display on those holes is no guarantee of a victory as none of the previous 74 players who accomplished that feat won the tournament.

Also getting off to hot starts with 6-under 66s were Zach Johnson and Rory McIlroy, with Casey Wittenberg, Hunter Mahan and Steve Stricker carding 67s at the approximate halfway point of the first round.

McIlroy, coming off a T-10 finish in last week's Wells Fargo Championship, felt he was entering the Players with his game in good shape. "I'm coming off the back of a pretty good week," the 24-year-old Northern Irishman told reporters Wednesday.

"I felt like the finish didn't really reflect how I played. From tee to green I was very solid last week. I just couldn't really get the putter going at all. But really happy with where my game is coming into this week, so hopefully I can see the weekend here for the first time."

Reigning Masters champion Adam Scott is playing competitively for the first time since nearly a month ago when he became the first Australian to win a green jacket. The 32-year-old, who took a vacation in the Bahamas and basically relaxed following his performance at Augusta National, shot a 69 Thursday.

On Wednesday Scott told the media he did his usual routine and took some time off following a major championship. "Put the clubs away for a little while. I left (them away) another week, which felt good, and I managed to just have no agenda for that week and enjoy myself and do nothing for a few days. It was nice."

Former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen also opened with a 69, with two other major winners, Keegan Bradley and Graeme McDowell, carding 2-under 70s.

One of the day's marquee threesomes - Tiger Woods, Brandt Snedeker and defending Players champion Matt Kuchar - tee off at 1:49 p.m.

Right behind them is Vijay Singh, who caused an uproar Wednesday when he filed a lawsuit in New York against the PGA Tour, claiming the Tour exposed him to "public humiliation and ridicule" during its 12-week investigation into his admitted use of deer-antler spray.

Bob Estes withdrew from the Players Championship before his round Thursday, citing illness, and was replaced by Scott Langley. Retief Goosen also withdrew. The 44-year-old South African, who began play on the 10th tee Thursday, was at even-par through nine holes before pulling out with a back injury.

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