To everybody’s surprise except his, Roberto Castro, tied the TPC Sawgrass course record by shooting a 9-under 63 in the first round of the Players Championship. His name now goes up in lights with just two other players, Greg Norman and Fred Couples. And for that reason he has easily won the Popup Player of the Day award given to the player who accomplished great things and surprised a lot of people in the process.
Castro is in his second year on Tour after having played the Buy.com Tour for a couple of years. He earned his card for 2012 by finishing T13 at Q-School. And he’s not just some jock; he graduated from Georgia Tech in 2007 with a degree in Industrial Engineering.
That turned out to be a good thing for a completely unrelated reason. Defending champion, Matt Kuchar, is also a Georgia Tech alum and the two of them played a practice round with Kuchar generously showing Castro how to play the course:
I played with Kuchar yesterday, which helped because obviously the guy has gone around the course and won. Feels like he knows what he’s doing. So our group played with Kuchar and Jeff 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 managed to pick up bits an pieces that when fitted together gave him a comprehensive mosaic with which to play the course:
Just little things here and there. On 15, it was my first time playing the golf course, really. So on 15 it looks like you want to drive it down the left, but there’s a lot more room to the right. I probably would have seen that when I got up there, but it’s nice going around with someone that can generally give you a little bit here and there.
And then it’s always interesting to watch what he does around the greens, or any player, really, 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 and gives you good — if my attitude would be like Kuchar’s more often, it would probably be a little better.
Even with that experience, this didn’t make it any easier. The course is every bit as hard as everyone has been saying it is:
Well, I think every hole is hard out here. So you kind of just have to step up and hit a shot on every hole. I kind of knew that going in. I played with Kuchar yesterday, which helped because obviously the guy has gone around the course and won. Feels like he knows what he’s doing. So our group played with Kuchar and Jeff 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.
So that kind of got me in this mindset, and, you know, 17 I was nervous today. First time playing the hole; I’m sure even if it’s the 100th time you’re nervous. You only get the first time once, so…[he birdied it.]
In fact his day was a birdie fest. Starting on the back nine, he birdied 11, 14 and closed it out with birdies on 16, 17, 18. Making the turn, he eagled 2, and birdied 4 and 6. An eagle, 7 birdies and no bogeys.
He played with Jason Bohn and Jimmie Walker and paid it forward to Bohn. Bohn got sucked into the vortex and shot 4-under himself:
I played really well, but playing with Roberto was just so simple. I mean, he hit it a foot every hole it felt like, so you were like, well, I guess we can hit it close. He showed — and it kind of rubbed off on us actually. It kind of rubbed off on me. I felt like I hit some good shots on the front nine and so made a few putts and it was great.
Did he see this coming?
Definitely. The last two weeks I’ve hit the ball really nicely. Scores haven’t shown it, but lot of greens in regulation and lot of fairways hit the last couple weeks. So, obviously, not great finishes, but a couple putts here and there and the last couple weeks could have been good too.
And so now his thoughts turn towards Friday’s round and hopefully he won’t think too much. One of the hardest things to do in golf is to backup a low round with another one. The mind drifts to the feels from the previous day and tries to replicate them the next. The reason he shot such a low round is that instead of trying, he allowed.
He played with so much freedom, he just shot at the pins. And he hit them very close all day long. But that’s exactly the source of increased effort and trying, success on the previous day. We’ll see how he does, but he isn’t going get much slack; there are some big guns right behind him:
6-under – Rory McIlroy and Zach Johnson
5-under – Tiger Woods, Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker, Webb Simpson, Ryan Palmer and Casey Wittenberg [who is coming into his own as well].
Any one of these guys could put up his own super-low round and blow Castro right out of his vortex.
But for now, that this largely unknown player could shoot this low round out of nowhere suggests that it’s possible for the rest of us to have our day too.