• Masters champion finishes with 3-over-par 75 at Sawgrass
  • McIlroy shoots 3-under, trails Matsuyama by 2 strokes

Jordan Spieth got an up-close view of golf’s No. 1 player in today’s opening round of the U.S. PGA Tour’s Players championship. The second-ranked Speith didn’t get nearer to the top.

“It was just a really, really poor day,” Spieth told reporters after an opening-round 3-over par 75 left him tied for 108th. He was eight shots behind leader Hideki Matsuyama and six back of playing partner Rory McIlroy, golf’s top-ranked player. 

“I’ll get over it,” Spieth said. “Fortunately, we have a lot of time before we tee off in the next round. I’m going to have to find some answers.”

Spieth, the winner of last month’s Masters Tournament and golf’s No. 2 player in the Official World Golf Rankings, is playing the first two rounds of the event in a group with McIlroy and Australia’s Jason Day, golf’s No. 7.

Day, who tied McIlroy with a 3-under 69 in his opening round, joked that he felt like the forgotten player in the group, which drew the largest galleries of the morning at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

“Is there a rivalry?” he laughed of the hype surrounding Spieth and McIlroy. “I was the third wheel. Everybody was saying ‘who’s that guy? Is that Andres Romero? But it’s great, I got to play with the world No. 1 and No. 2. It’s always good to play with guys like that.”

McIlroy downplayed the possibility of a budding head-to-head battle between the two players, instead saying he was focused on this event. It has a $10 million purse, matching the Masters for the season’s biggest.

“Last year it was Rickie (Fowler), this year it’s Jordan, might be someone else, could have been Tiger,” he said. “There’s been four or five rivalries over the past year. So, it doesn’t really do anything for me. I don’t need any extra incentive to get the juices flowing this week. It’s one of the most important tournaments of the year. I’m pretty much paying attention to myself out there, and regardless of who I play with, that doesn’t really change.”

Spieth, on the other hand, said he is more excited about the possibility and said he is aiming at McIlroy’s spot atop the world golf rankings. McIlroy entered this week with a 3.57-point lead over Spieth in the ranking, which is tabulated based on player results over a rolling two-year period, after winning last week’s World Golf Championship Match Play event in San Francisco.

“It’s certainly a huge goal of mine to make it interesting with him and possibly take over No. 1,” Spieth said.

Still, the 21-year-old Texan who won his first major title at last month’s Masters, said there’s a long way to go before he and McIlroy, a 26-year-old Northern Irishman who has won four major golf titles, can be mentioned in the same conversation as Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, or Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

“It’s still early,” Spieth told reporters. “I could certainly appreciate if I could get to where he’s at, but right now I don’t see myself there. There’s a lot of hard work that needs to be had to get there.”

For today, Spieth said he’s focused on trying to avoid missing the 36-hole cut. After lunch, he was headed to the practice range in search of fixing an alignment issue with his swing.

“I figured out I was lined up 20 yards too far right with my lower body and I was too far left with my shoulders,” he said. “It’s something I’m working on. I’m hitting a lot of long irons fat and hitting some thin heel shots as well. It’s nothing major. But with how difficult this golf course is, you’ve got to be on your game. It’s tough.”

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