The Loop

Mickelson Makes the Turn in One-Under 35

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The marquee pairing among the morning groups at TPC Sawgrass is the threesome of Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson and Rory Sabbatini. All three wowed the gallery by making birdie on the par-5 16th, before Mickelson got the fans into a frenzy by hitting his approach on the island-green 17th hole to four feet. He made the putt for birdie to get to two under through eight holes but couldn't keep the momentum going on 18, making bogey on his ninth hole of the day to finish his first half of the course at one under. (Stenson, who bogeyed 17 after his tee shot into the water, finished the front nine at one over, while Sabbatini was at even par).

Mickelson, the defending champ, is looking to become the first player to repeat as Players champion, and he knew it wasn't going to be easy. "The greens are faster and firmer, and because of that, the greens being so small, they're tough to hit," Lefty said in a pre-tournament interview. "They're two feet faster on the Stimpmeter than they were last year and because of the firmness the ball runs out a lot more on your approach shots, and it's difficult chipping."

Only four defending Players champions have finished in the top-10 the following year: Jack Nicklaus (T-5) in 1977; Mark McCumber (T-6) in 1989; Tom Kite (T-5) in 1990; and Adam Scott (T-8) in 2005. McCumber came the closest to repeating. He was two shots off the lead entering the final round, but shot 74 Sunday to finish four back of winner  Kite.

Meanwhile, Masters champion Trevor Immelman withdrew before his round because of an illness. Immelman said he woke up early in the morning with an upset stomach and vomiting and returned to his Orlando home to recover.

--John Antonini