Adam Scott and Jason Day in contention at PLAYERS Championship

Australians are three strokes off the lead at the PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass.

Courtesy of the PGA Tour

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA – Adam Scott was the youngest golfer to win THE PLAYERS Championship back in 2004 until 22-year-old Si Woo Kim stole the honor last year. So, it was only fitting the duo be paired together for the opening-round Thursday at TPC Sawgrass.

They didn’t disappoint. Kim will continue his title defense Friday, one stroke off the lead at 5-under, while Scott finds himself not far behind, thanks to a 3-under 69. He’s joined in a crowded field with fellow countryman and PLAYERS winner Jason Day, who recorded the same score. Both will enter Friday’s action tied for 27th.

The pair are part of six Australians in the field looking to bring back a sixth title to their home country. Marc Leishman had a solid 1-under 71, but Rod Pampling (2-over), Cameron Smith (4-over) and Geoff Ogilvy (6-over) have some work to do in order to make the cut.

“I think that the short game is where it needs to be,” said Day, who won THE PLAYERS in 2016 and is coming off a victory last week at the Wells Fargo Championship. “Just did a little bit of work over the last couple days on my long game to try and straighten it out, and it feels like it’s finally coming around nicely, and I’m looking forward to trying to get my second PLAYERS Championship this week.”

Scott, meanwhile, will look to build on his solid start with Kim on Friday, when they again tee off together at 1:41 p.m., Florida time.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL – MAY 10: Adam Scott of Australia plays a shot on the tenth hole during the first round of THE PLAYERS Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on May 10, 2018 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

“He played great,” Scott said of Kim. “If you want to add some pressure in there, then he played really good. I think he’s probably a bit like me, a little disappointed that he didn’t finish a couple of shots better when he was at 7-under and he was probably thinking he should, could shoot 8- or 9- or 10-under … I think he’s doing a very fine job of defending his title so far.”

Like Kim, who approached the finish at 7-under before bogeys on two of his final three holes, Scott started strong on the vaunted Stadium Course. He birdied four of his first seven holes but was relatively quiet after that. He bogeyed No. 18 and No. 4 but rallied at the end, thanks to a 6-foot birdie putt on No. 8.

“Well it was a good start and kind of a slow middle and a good finish,” he said. “But it was really there for the taking this morning. As you can see, the scoring’s pretty solid from everyone, so I think I kind of held my ground today and there were good signs. I putted very nicely, which is nice, but could tighten up a few things here and there because you get out of position here it’s tough, you really have to be quite precise from tee to green. If I can just get 18 holes of good swinging, I think I’m in for a good run at the weekend.”

The duo is not far removed from a crowded leaderboard Thursday. Six players are tied for the lead, at 6-under, headlined by the world’s No. 1 player, Dustin Johnson. Webb Simpson, Alex Noren, Chesson Hadley, 2012 PLAYERS Championship winner Matt Kuchar and Patrick Cantlay all will join him at the top spot when play resumes Friday.

“It’s a really cool event with a lot of history, and I think it’s just as hard to win as a major because you’ve got the best players in the world here, maybe a better field than any tournament, and then last few holes there’s trouble lurking,” Simpson said. “There’s been a lot of drama coming down the stretch in many of the golf tournaments.

“I want to play well here,” he added. “You know, just like any other tournament, but this is a special one. This is our tournament.”

Elsewhere, Tiger Woods shot even-par—an eagle on No. 9 the highlight of his day—while playing partner Phil Mickelson carded three double-bogeys over his final five holes en route to a 7-over 79. Justin Thomas, with a shot at the world’s No. 1 ranking this week, finished at 1-over.

Jordan Spieth, who also has a shot to supplant Johnson as the top-ranked player in the OWGR, is 3-over after an adventurous opening round that saw him bogey his first two holes, eagle the third, then give it right back with a double on the fourth.

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