Roberto Castro, a Yellow Jackets alum, fired a record-tying score of 63 during the first round of the The Players Championship on Thursday in Ponte Vedra, Fla., to lead early.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Roberto Castro proved himself a sterling student as he followed up a tutorial with 2012 winner Matt Kuchar — both Georgia Tech grads — with a record-tying 63 on Thursday to take the lead at the Players Championship.
Unheralded 27-year-old Castro put his name alongside record holders Greg Norman and Fred Couples with a 9-under 63 score on the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course following a practice round with fellow alumnus Kuchar.
Seven birdies and an eagle propelled the red-haired nephew of former LPGA player Jenny Lidback. Castro held a three-shot lead over Rory McIlroy and Zach Johnson with world number one Tiger Woods a further shot back.
“I played with Kuchar (Wednesday), which helped because obviously the guy has gone around the course and won,” said Castro, a 2011 graduate of the Web.com Tour who has made just seven of 14 cuts on the PGA Tour this season.
Castro, ranked 267th in the most recent World Golf rankings, said there was no single revelation he drew from the practice session.
“Just little things here and there,” he said. “It’s always interesting to watch what he does around the greens, or any player 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. If my attitude would be like Kuchar’s more often, (my results) would probably be a little better.”
Practicing with Kuchar and Australian Geoff Ogilvy, a former U.S. Open winner, put Castro in the right frame of mind.
“Kuchar and Geoff 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,” he said.
Castro figured out a winning formula, hitting all but one fairway and using laser-like irons to set up six birdie putts within five feet, including four within two feet.
His 13-foot, downhill putt on his last hole for a record-setting 62 slid four feet past the cup.
Castro was so efficient with his irons that he did not have to attempt a single putt over 10 feet in his round.
It was not Castro’s first 63 in a PGA tournament.
He posted an opening nine-under 63 at the 2013 Humana Challenge before finishing tied for 37th. A final-round seven-under 63 at the 2012 Greenbrier Classic gave him a tie for seventh for his only PGA Tour Top 10.
But Thursday’s record-tying round was something Castro could only imagine before putting his lessons into practice, leading a reporter to ask about the dream foursome he listed on the PGA Tour website — Bobby Jones, Tiger Woods and John Lennon.
“I was a big Beatles fan, specifically Lennon,” he said. “I doubt he ever even picked up a golf club, but one of the most interesting historical figures, in my opinion.”
MCILROY, WOODS LURKING: While Castro stole the show Thursday, plenty of familiar faces were hanging around the top of the leaderboard looking to steal it right back.
Castro has a three-shot lead over Rory McIlroy and Zach Johnson with Tiger Woods lurking.
The world class leaderboard also included U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, U.S. Ryder Cup players Steve Stricker and Hunter Mahan in a group with Woods another shot back at 67.
World No. 2 McIlroy also took advantage of greens softened by last week’s heavy rains to reverse a trend of poor results for him at Sawgrass, where he had never broken par or made the cut in three prior appearances in the tournament.
Top-ranked Woods, the 2001 winner, led the way among the afternoon starters, making four consecutive birdies from the ninth hole and adding another at the 16th and appeared poised to tie for second on 66.
But Woods’ approach aimed at the back right pin at 18 trickled over the edge of the green and down a slope. He hit a weak chip that hung in the fringe and needed two strokes to get down, ruining his bid for his first bogey-free round at Sawgrass in 56 tries.
Still, Woods was pleased with his round.
“I made a couple key putts here and there, and I really took care of the par-fives. I birdied all of them today, which is nice,” said Woods, the only three-time PGA winner this season.
Also in the group that included Woods was Casey Wittenberg and Ryan Palmer, with Jason Bohn and Swedes Henrik Stenson and David Lingmerth, Australian Greg Chalmers, Ireland’s Padraig Harrington and Spaniard Sergio Garcia another shot back.
Kuchar was eight shots off the pace after opening with a one-under 71, while four-tmes major winner Phil Michelson was a further shot back after mixing four birdies with two bogeys and a double-bogey.