Horschel (68) contending after Match Play loss

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Within minutes of walking off the final green at The Players Championship, Billy Horschel was back to dissecting last week’s loss.

Sure, he opened with a 4-under 68 at TPC Sawgrass to sit one shot off the early pace, but his overtime loss to Rory McIlroy was still top-of-mind. Horschel had been 2-up with two holes to play before McIlroy rallied to win on the 20th hole in a match that sent Horschel packing and sent the world No. 1 on to victory at TPC Harding Park.

“Yeah, I should have finished – I mean, I can say I should have finished it off, I made him do something special to beat me,” Horschel said. “I wouldn’t say it was a good thing that I got some extra days’ rest. I would rather (have) kept playing and win the event like he did.”

Horschel took a step toward redemption with a five-birdie effort on the Stadium Course, where he found 14 of 18 greens in regulation.

“Obviously it’s probably the best opening round I’ve had this whole year, and I needed it,” said Horschel, who ranks 131st this season in Round 1 scoring average.

Horschel only has one top-10 this season in defense of his FedEx Cup title, a third-place showing at the Valero Texas Open. While he doesn’t play much recreational golf at TPC Sawgrass, the Ponte Vedra Beach resident has seen promising signs from his work since returning from San Francisco.

“I had some really good practice sessions the last two days,” he said. “I just needed to stay out of my own way, and I felt like if I did that today then it was going to be a good one out there.”