With sunny skies and nary a breath of wind, players were able to take full advantage of a defenseless Stadium Course during the opening round of The Players Championship. Here's the skinny heading into Friday's second round, where an unheralded sophomore finds his name atop the leaderboard:
What it means: Birdies were falling in bunches Thursday, as receptive greens and calm conditions gave players every advantage over what is traditionally one of the more penal courses on Tour. Castro is staked to a three-shot lead after equalling the course record previously held by Fred Couples and Greg Norman, but both of the top two players in the world lurk just a few shots off the pace.
Round of the day: Playing his first competitive round at the Stadium Course, Castro went low behind some expert approach shots. Beginning on the back nine, he caught his stride in the middle of the round, playing a nine-hole stretch from No. 14 to No. 4 in 7 under. Castro did not drop a shot all day, instead recording seven birdies and an eagle despite not making a putt over 10 feet all day.
Best of the rest: Among the early wave of players in the opening round, McIlroy got around the Stadium Course without dropping a shot. Starting on the back nine, the Ulsterman birdied five of his first eight holes Thursday and ultimately reached 15 of 18 greens in regulation. Beginning the week with a 6-under 66, he appears in position to play the weekend for the first time at TPC Sawgrass after missing the cut in each of his prior three appearances.
Biggest disappointment: Making his first start since winning the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Billy Horschel came to TPC Sawgrass riding streaks of four straight top-10 finishes and 23 consecutive made cuts. Both appear in serious jeopardy after Thursday's round, though, as the Jacksonville resident carded a 4-over 76 despite four birdies, carding a double-bogey 6 at both Nos. 10 and 18.
Main storyline heading into Friday: With both McIlroy and Woods off to uncharacteristically strong starts on what both described as a 'tricky' venue, who can best capitalize on the momentum during Friday's second round? Woods is among those who will be off early Friday morning, perhaps motivated by a closing bogey to cap his round of 67, while McIlroy will wait until the afternoon wave. Several strong contenders join the duo on the first page of the leaderboard after 18 holes, though, including major champions Johnson and Simpson.
Shot of the day: A winner earlier this year at the Honda Classic, Michael Thompson came to the lengthy, par-3 eighth hole at even par, having bogeyed three of his last seven holes. That slumped turned around in a hurry, though, as the Alabama resident aced the 231-yard hole with a 3-iron en route to a 3-under 69 Thursday. It marked the first hole-in-one at the Players Championship since 2008, and the first ace on the eighth hole since 2000.
Quote of the day: 'I felt like I had to go out there and shoot something in the 60s today. Most of the guys were under par in that morning session.' – Woods, whose 5-under 67 matched his lowest round at TPC Sawgrass since the final round in 2007.