It was a year ago that Georgia Tech alum Matt Kuchar won his first Players Championship.
Now another former Yellow Jacket is trying to do the same.
Roberto Castro entered Thursday having played the Players Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass just twice before, once in a pro-am for the Web.com Tour’s Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open and the other in a practice round Wednesday with Kuchar and Geoff Ogilvy.
But despite little experience on one of the Tour’s toughest tests, Castro fired a 9-under 63 to tie the course record shared by Greg Norman (Round 1, 1994 Players) and Fred Couples (Round 3, 1992 Players), and grab hold of the early lead.
“I think every hole is hard out here,” Castro said. “So you kind of just have to step up and hit a shot on every hole.”
Castro recorded seven birdies and an eagle Thursday. He started his day on the back nine and was 2 under entering the par-5 16th. He striped a 4-iron into the green at No. 16 to set up the first of three straight birdies.
At the par-3 17th, his tee ball, struck with a 9-iron, landed inside of 2 feet. He followed that by sticking a 4-iron inside of a couple of feet at the par-4 18th.
“Birdies on (Nos.) 17 and 18 was a nice kick-start, really,” Castro said. “So (that) kind of freed it up on the other side.”
Things kept rolling on the front nine. Castro eagled the par-5 second hole, hitting 3-iron to just inside of 5 feet to set up his eagle. He added birdies at Nos. 4 and 6, both the result of sticking approaches inside of 2 feet.
“The last two weeks I’ve hit the ball really nicely,” Castro said. “I have not gotten the scores out of it, but a lot of greens in regulation, lot of fairways hit, lot of quality shots.”
A trip around the Players Stadium course with the defending champ helped, too.
“It’s nice going around with someone that can generally give you a little bit here and there,” Castro said. “And then it’s always interesting to watch what he (Kuchar) does around the greens … where he practices his chipping from, putting from, and he’s fun. He keeps it light out there and gives you good (advice).
“If my attitude would be like Kuchar’s more often, it (my game) would probably be a little better.”
But on Thursday, Castro looked just as impressive as Kuchar did during last year’s championship performance. And the crowd took notice.
“Big crowds out here,” Castro said. “You know, Tiger doesn’t play until this afternoon, so I’m sure some people were looking for something interesting to watch. So it was fun. (No.) 9 was a cool vibe. It was a nice reception on (No.) 9 green and then when I finished also.”
But there is still a lot of golf left between nice receptions on Thursday and champion-worthy roars on Sunday, and Castro, a five-time winner on the eGolf Pro Tour, has still yet to prove he can win on the highest level.
He hasn’t finished inside the top 10 this year on the PGA Tour. He’s made the cut in just half of his 14 events played, although he has notched three top-25 finishes. His best career finish on tour is a tied for seventh at last year’s Greenbrier Classic — the only top 10 of his career on tour.
Even in college, Castro, a four-time All-American at Georgia Tech and 2007 Byron Nelson Award winner, won just one individual title, and that was when he shared medalist honors at the Puerto Rico Classic as a senior.
Castro is a big music fan, more specifically a huge Beatles fanatic. He even lists John Lennon in his dream foursome — “I doubt he ever picked up a golf club, but one of the most interesting historical figures, in my opinion,” Castro said.
And with another round like the one he had Thursday, it won’t be difficult to “imagine” Castro making it two in a row for Georgia Tech at the Players.