PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - In his first 12 rounds over four years at Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, Ryuji Imada had never shot lower than 70. So he's just about as surprised as anyone to have opened the Players with rounds of 67-66 and sit one shot off the lead held by Lee Westwood after 36 holes.
"I haven't had too many low scores here, yeah," he allowed.
So you'd think he'd be giving himself more credit than he did Friday afternoon when pressed about surpassing previous efforts so resoundingly. Imada's best previous effort was two-under 70 on two occasions, including the second round last year when he finished a career-best T-45.
"Well, the golf course is totally different," said the Japanese native who now lives in Tampa, Fla. "Usually, if you shoot even par or anything under par on this golf course, you're doing really well. But that's not the case this year."
No it's not. Soft greens, light winds and an absence of thick rough have combined to make the Stadium Course vulnerable to scoring. But that should not take away from Imada's performance. Winner of the 2008 AT&T Classic, Imada, 33, didn't have a bogey on his scorecard Friday. He wasn't laser straight tee to green, hitting nine fairways and 11 greens in regulation, but he rarely put himself in real trouble. His putting was stellar; he needed only 23 strokes.
A key par save from seven feet on the first hole keyed his round, and a chip-in for birdie at the ninth was one of many short-game boosts to his scorecard. He converted a string of par saves on the back nine starting at the par-4 12th.
"A lot of fairways, a lot of good shots ... and my iron shots were a little bit off compared to (Thursday), but was still good enough to shoot 4-under on the front," Imada said. "On the back nine I struggled a little bit more, but I was able to make a lot of par-saving putts, and, all-in-all, it was a great round."