Castro Sets Sawgrass Ablaze

For someone who'd never played the Pete Dye-designed TPC Sawgrass before other than a practice round earlier this week, Robert Castro did pretty well on Thursday of the Players Championship, the event with the biggest purse on the PGA Tour.

Teeing off among the early groups, the 27-year-old Texan fired a course-record-tying 9-under 63 to take a three-stroke lead over Zach Johnson and Rory McIlroy, and four lower than Casey Wittenberg, Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker, Ryan Palmer, reigning U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson and No. 1-ranked Tiger Woods.

The Georgia Tech had a blemish-free scorecard, posting seven birdies and an eagle in his outing that matched the course and tournament's all-time scoring mark set by Fred Couples and Greg Norman in 1992 and 1994, respectively. He also became the 75th player in Players Championship history to birdie each hole in the Stadium course's "Gauntlet" - Nos. 16, 17 and 18.

Castro has a later start Friday and, with his spectacular opening effort, he won't be quite as anonymous as in the first round. He'll be going off the first tee at 12:26 (ET) with Jason Bohn and Jimmy Walker.

On Thursday afternoon, Castro met with reporters and talked about his amazing outing.

MODERATOR: Welcome, Roberto Castro. Roberto, 9 under, tied a course record with a couple Hall of Famers and great players. If you want to talk about your round today and we'll have a few questions.

ROBERTO CASTRO: Thanks, sure. Just started on the back, and birdied the two par 5s, so it was 2 under. I actually picked up another birdie on 14, I think, And then birdies on 17 and 18 was a nice kick start, really. So kind of freed it up on the other side after turning in a good number and hit it well all the way around.

Q. Did you see this coming, coming into this week?

ROBERTO CASTRO: A little bit. The last two weeks I've hit the ball really nicely. I have not gotten the scores out of it. But lot of greens in regulation, lot of fairways hit, lot of quality shots, so I thought that would be a good thing coming into this week where you have to hit it nice and solid, nice and straight. So it's definitely not great results, but I still hit good rounds of shots the last few weeks.

Q. Roberto, did you miss a memo where guys playing in the first round of the Players Championship are not supposed to shoot 63 and birdie 16, 17, and 18? Did you have fear out there? Did you feel nervous when you were practicing? What was going on mentally?

ROBERTO CASTRO: Well, I think every hole is hard out here. So you kind of just have to step up and hit a shot on every hole. I kind of knew that going in. I played with Kuchar yesterday, which helped because obviously the guy has gone around the course and won. Feels like he knows what he's doing. So our group played with Kuchar and Jeff Ogilvy. Both are great players, veteran guys. Just kind of got the feel of going about their business and trying to figure out the golf course. So that was kind of got in this mindset, and, you know, 17 I was nervous today. First time playing the hole; I'm sure even if it's the 100th time you're nervous. You only get the first time once, so...

Q. How soft was the golf course, and were you surprised by that? Secondly, have you ever had - or do you recall a day of such good ball striking where everything you hit was like two or three feet it seemed like?

ROBERTO CASTRO: The course was medium, you know? You aren't spinning the ball back. Some of the longer holes, the ball is still moving forward. It wasn't like you were going to be firing long irons into 16 and holding the green. Now, as far as on so many kick ins, maybe some mini Tour rounds where you're hitting wedge on every hole, but not quite Stadium Course. So it was definitely an interesting round.

Q. What did you hit into No. 2?

ROBERTO CASTRO: I hit 3 iron.

Q. I mean, that ball settled it appears to be about three feet from the cup. Is anything going through your mind like geez, this is a lot of fun today?

ROBERTO CASTRO: Definitely. That was when I think I wasn't paying that close of attention, but walking off 10 I was 5 under, and I had played a couple low rounds before where I tried to birdie every other hole. Not that you start that way, but try to stay aggressive and keep that pace. When I eagled 11 I was like oh, now I'm 7 through 11, so that's keeping ahead of that 50-percent mark. But this is a different golf course. After I thought that on 2, I didn't really think about it again. The golf course is much harder than most of the other times I've kind of taken that attitude.

Q. Did you know that your 13 footer on the last was to shoot the course record?

ROBERTO CASTRO: I didn't know. But I kind of figured it was 62, 63, 64. I thought I was somewhere around there, so...

Q. There is a lot of focus here on 16, 17 and 18 as a great finish. And you birdied, birdied, birdied there. What's been your approach to those holes?

ROBERTO CASTRO: I played 16 just like 1 and 2, basically playing the front left of the green. I actually had to putt over the fringe because I kind of got in the corner over there. And 17, I was just trying to hit it on top of the ridge behind the hole to get myself 6 to 8 yards to play with there. It was kind of breezy when we played those holes. I hit it solid, but I could tell it got up in the breeze a little, so it turned out perfect. And there is no secret to playing 18. You just stripe it once and try to stripe it again. So I hit two good ones there.

Q. What did you stripe it with the second time?

ROBERTO CASTRO: I hit 4 iron.

Q. What did you hit into 17 and 18?

ROBERTO CASTRO: I hit 9 iron on 17 and 4 iron into 18.

Q. Then you had less than two feet on 4 and 6. First of all, the one on 17, 18, did it look like they had a chance to go in?

ROBERTO CASTRO: 17 was kind of right at it the whole time. I thought Jimmy Walker might have made it. He hit it right on top of the flag right behind it and it didn't spin back. I thought it would. And 18, no. I was trying to punch it on the front right part of the green and let it scoot back there and it did perfectly. It kind of went up near the right fringe, and just fed down to the hole on 18, so they didn't look like they were going in.

Q. The fact that you don't have 6, 7, 10 years' experience here, does that actually help you because you don't have a lot of horror stories buried in your memory?

ROBERTO CASTRO: Maybe. Maybe. But I don't think anyone's figured out what the secret is to this place. Davis won 21 years after winning the first time, so I'm sure there were plenty of water balls in between those two wins. Hal Sutton did the same thing. They've had some young guys play well here the last few years. I've just noticed, maybe not win, but Anthony Kim finished third or fourth here, and he was my age in college and he turned pro and played well here the first year. So I don't know. Maybe, maybe not.

Q. What kind of insights did Kuchar give you yesterday? Was it hole to hole telling you where to hit or was it just general stuff?

ROBERTO CASTRO: Just little things here and there. On 15, it was my first time playing the golf course, really. So on 15 it looks like you want to drive it down the left, but there's a lot more room to the right. I probably would have seen that when I got up there, but it's nice going around with someone that can generally give you a little bit here and there. And then it's always interesting to watch what he does around the greens, or any player, really, that's had a lot of success, where he practices his chipping from, putting from, and he's fun. He keeps it light out there and gives you good - if my attitude would be like Kuchar's more often, it would probably be a little better.

Q. Have you ever met or talked to or had occasion to run into Greg Norman or Fred Couples?

ROBERTO CASTRO: No. I've played in a handful of events with Freddy, and I always watch him because he's like the coolest guy ever, so . . . But I don't know him. I've never spoken to him.

Q. Could you sense the crowd or atmosphere swelling up as you went around?

ROBERTO CASTRO: A little bit on the last three holes, 7, 8 and 9. Big crowds out here. You know, Tiger doesn't play till this afternoon, so I'm sure some people were looking for something interesting to watch, so it was fun. 9 was a cool vibe. It was a nice reception on 9 green and then when I finished also.

Q. Have you ever shot a score lower than that at any level?


Q. Where was that?

ROBERTO CASTRO: I think I shot 61 or 62 in an E golf event.

Q. And then I have to ask you. In your bio, I have to ask you to explain your dream foursome. I get it about Bobby Jones and Tiger Woods, but what about the John Lennon thing?

ROBERTO CASTRO: I was a big Beatles fan, specifically Lennon, so I doubt he ever even picked up a golf club, but one of the most interesting historical figures, in my opinion.

Q. What is your relationship with Jenny?

ROBERTO CASTRO: She's my mother's sister. She's my aunt.

Q. Doesn't she have some South American connections?

ROBERTO CASTRO: Uh huh, my mom's side of the family is from Peru, so Jenny was born and raised in Peru, and came to the U.S. as teenagers. They've been in the States a long time.

Q. Heck of a round. What was working for you out there?

ROBERTO CASTRO: I hit it close a lot.

Q. Any particular shot that was working for you?

ROBERTO CASTRO: A couple good wedges. I hit a couple of gimmes on the back, but really birdie on 17 and 18 got things going. I hit a 4 iron close on 18 to kick in almost. So from there, it was kind of off to the races.

Q. Is there a certain point in the round where you felt like you were really putting together something special?

ROBERTO CASTRO: When I eagled 2, I guess I was 7 under, but there are so many tough holes coming in, that, really - even 9, that is a tiny green surrounded by nothing good, so I just tried to play all the way through.

Q. Did you see this coming at all in your game?

ROBERTO CASTRO: Definitely. The last two weeks I've hit the ball really nicely. Scores haven't shown it, but lot of greens in regulation and lot of fairways hit the last couple weeks. So, obviously, not great finishes, but a couple putts here and there and the last couple weeks could have been good too.

Q. You knocked it stiff on 6. There was a smaller group around the 6 green but the galleries started to get a little bigger. Did you sense what was going on?

ROBERTO CASTRO: A little bit. The crowds here are huge, so I figured they were looking for something fun to watch today. So, yeah, it was a good reception there on 9. That was nice.

Q. Two shots, at approach shot on 9, I mean, if that's half a yard to the right it funnels right down, right?

ROBERTO CASTRO: That's true. It was perfect weight. I hit it really solid. I kind of felt like the ball was a little up in my stance and I caught it a little late. But it really could have, like you said, it was about a foot from being a kick in. Because that putt I had I barely got it rolling, and it went three feet by. I definitely had plenty of funnel in the right direction for me today.

Q. How bad did you want the four footer coming back? Was that the toughest putt of the day?

ROBERTO CASTRO: Definitely. The first putt I hit so well and I wanted to give it a run. I could have just touched it, but I had no chance to make the first one, basically. But I told myself, let's hit a solid putt. If you have three or four feet coming back, try to make that one.

Q. No disrespect intended here, but when your name started across that leaderboard, everybody's probably Googling it.


Q. Is that kind of fun?

ROBERTO CASTRO: Definitely, it is. It gets proven out here every week. Derek Ernst won last week in his eighth event and no one ever heard of him. There are a lot of good players out here.

Q. Take me through the second shot on 2?

ROBERTO CASTRO: I had 215 front, 225 hole, and I thought about hitting a hard 4 iron, but I hadn't hit anything hard all day. I was in a nice rhythm. So I just - my caddie said let's hit 3, a comfortable one, and if it goes long, it goes long. When it came out, I hit it solid and told it to get down and it was perfect, so it was a good decision there.

Q. Are you one of those guys that looks at the leaderboard or do you just play?

ROBERTO CASTRO: They're everywhere, so it's hard not to look at them. But on day one, if you see one, you see one, but I'm not looking to see what else is going on really.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.