PONTE VEDRA, Fla. — Most of the players didn’t notice how treacherous TPC Sawgrass was going to be for the Players Championship opening round until they arrived to the course Thursday and were smacked in the face by it.

Lee Westwood was doing some advance homework Wednesday night and he knew exactly what was in store.

“I was writing the pins [placements] in my book, and you could see that there were a few smelly ones out there. … Like I haven’t seen too many of these on a Thursday before,’’ Westwood said after shooting 3-under 69.

“Very repellant pins,’’ Phil Mickelson said after shooting 71.

Rory McIlroy, the world’s No. 3-ranked player, wasn’t so much victimized by the tricky course conditions as he was with his swing, shooting a nightmarish 7-over 79.

“They always call this golf course a little bit of superstar killer,’’ Graeme McDowell said. “I feel like this golf course has that reputation where the best players in the world can come here and … it kind of had Rory’s number for a lot of years.’’

Until McIlroy won the tournament two years ago, that is.

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Rory McIlroy
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That form, however, was absent Thursday as he played a few of the holes at TPC Sawgrass the same way a lot of amateur golfers do when they take a crack at one of the most recognizable courses on the PGA Tour.

McIlroy rinsed two shots in the water on No. 18 — his ninth hole after starting on No. 10 — and took a quadruple-bogey 8 on the daunting par-4 finishing hole.

No. 10, though, didn’t go so well, either. McIlroy hit his tee shot into the trees to the left of the fairway, had to take an unplayable lie and started with double bogey. That was the beginning of an uncharacteristically miserable day for the Northern Irishman.

The round — and McIlroy’s 2021 Players Championship — was doomed by the double on 10 and the quad on 18 that left him making the turn at 7-over 43.

“Very hard, especially when you’re trying to figure it out as you go along on the course,’’ McIlroy said. “You’re trying to figure it out, but you still know you’re not really sure where the shots are coming from and then it’s sort of hard to at least to try to eliminate one side of the golf course.’’

McIlroy’s day was a complete contrast to that of 2008 Players Championship winner Sergio Garcia, with whom he was paired. Garcia shot a 7-under 65 to storm to the lead.

“I love Rory; he’s an amazing player,’’ Garcia said. “At this course, you don’t have to be that far off to get penalized a lot. I told him when we finished, ‘Just go out there [Friday] and get it and you never know.’ I shot 7-under [Thursday], so he can shoot 7-under [Friday] and hopefully make the cut. He’s able to do it.’’

Besides McIlroy, there was plenty more carnage around TPC Sawgrass on what was a pretty benign weather day with sunshine, temperatures in the 70s and only a modest breeze.

Henrik Stenson shot a 13-over-par 85 for the high score of the day.

Kyle Stanley and Jimmy Walker each posted an 83. So, too, did Byeong Hun An, who took 11 of his 83 shots on the famous island-green, par-3 17th hole, hitting four balls into the water.

Earlier, Kevin Na hit three balls into the water on 17 and actually chipped in for an 8. Na, who’d played the hole 31 previous times without hitting one into the water, withdrew from the tournament right after his round citing a back injury (insert your own punch line).

Hideki Matsuyama, who had first-round lead with a 63 last year before the tournament was canceled, was 13 shots worse than that on Thursday with a 76.

Justin Thomas, after his round of 71, was asked why the tournament officials “hammered’’ the players with the gnarly pin positions Thursday.

“Probably because they weren’t really too excited about how low the scores have been the last few years,’’ Thomas said.



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