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From The Players: The Rank-and-File Strike Back, Rory Struggles And Why Jason Day's Round Was So Impressive

David Cannon. Getty Images.

"A win is a win." 

Chad Ramey said quite a bit by saying very little. I'd asked him what a round like Thursday's, a eight-under 64 that saw him beat every superstar and non-superstar on Thursday at TPC Sawgrass, does for his confidence. It's only one round, granted, but he's the No. 225 player in the world, and he's missed his last three cuts, and still no one could match him. 

"Yeah, there's no doubt. It gives me the confidence, and deep down I believe I belong out here. I believe I can beat them. It's just a matter of I guess proving to everybody else that I can. But it's nice to see my name up there with them because I did win an opposite-field event, but a win is a win in my book."

Ramey is, by any definition, currently one of the "rank-and-file" players that next year's designated events will do without. At least right now. His lone win on tour came at last year's Corales Puntacana Championship, while all the top guys were busy playing against each other at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. arguably the weakest field of the season. Despite that victory, he sitll finished 85th in last year's FedEx Cup standings, well outside that magical top 50 number. And yet he takes pride in that win, even if he beat a bunch of rank-and-file guys to get there. 

Now would be the perfect time to play your way into that top-50 tier and reap its massive rewards. That all the PGA Tour's top players can play 18 holes on a discerning golf course, and the No. 174 player in the FedEx Cup standings can stand alone on the top of the leaderboard at day's end, is a testament to the extraordinary depth of talent. It's why plenty of these non-superstars take issue with the new limited-field format; they, too, feel like they can beat the Rorys and the Scotties if given the chance. Granted, we are less than 1/4 through this golf tournament—play was suspended for darkness with 21 players still yet to complete their first round because the pace of play on the PGA Tour is shambolic, but that's a discussion for another time—but the only name your casual-friend fan recognizes in the top five is Collin Morikawa's. He's sandwiched by Ramey, Taylor Pendrith, Ben Griffin and Justin Suh. 

Those rank-and-file guys? They can play. 

Plenty of big names struggle

A last-minute equipment change keyed Collin Morikawa's excellent seven-under 65. He decided to go back to Ol' Trusty, the TaylorMade SIM model he hit that iconic shot at the 2020 PGA Championship with. 

"Last week was a weird one. Just had a two-way miss. It's tough. The swing's feeling good and I put in a lot of work this weekend and Monday through Wednesday to make sure I had that cut. I have a Stealth 2 driver that's actually -- it probably goes farther and it actually does what I want, I just haven't put it in play yet. It was something that we built earlier this week. Just to know where my misses would be, even though I missed a few left, I just know once I hit it off the face, I know where the misses are going to be. It's nice to have something trusty. But I just didn't have time to test my other one enough, especially after kind of having the misses on the last week."

World No. 2 Scottie Scheffler is three back after a 68, as is Sam Burns. Jordan Spieth, Viktor Hovland and Sahith Theegala posted 69, but a number of top players failed to break par on a tricky day for scoring. Rory McIlroy shot himself out of the tournament with a four-over 76. So did Matt FItzpatrick (76). Jon Rahm's in decent shape at one-under, but Patrick Cantlay (72), Xander Schauffele (72), Max Homa (72), Justin Thomas (73) and Tony Finau (73) all failed to get into the house in red numbers. 

"I feel like this is as penal as I've seen it out of the rough for a long time," McIlroy said. "I think you'd have to go back to when the tournament was played in May, when we were in Bermuda rough, for it to be as penal as that. Yeah, you don't hit it on the fairway here, you're going to struggle.

Jason Day can concentrate

We've all experienced it—you're paired with horrendous golfers, and watching them make a mess takes you out of your focus. In turn, you play awful. Consider, then, just how impressive Jason Day's two-under 70 was. Not just because conditions were difficult, and shooting under par at TPC Sawgrass is always a good score. It's that neither of his playing partners broke 80. 

Day, who is playing great golf in 2023 and comes in off four straight top 10s, was paired with fellow Aussie Lucas Herbert and Aaron Wise in the first round. Wise was just two over for his round when he stepped to the 18th tee, only to hit three identical shots into the water and need a gamey up-and-down for a septuple-bogey 10. He posted 80. 

Herbert also found the water with his tee shot on 18, but most of the damage had already been done. A triple-bogey 7 brough him to 10 over for the round, and his 82 was the worst score of the day.  And yet Day managed to overcome a double-bogey on 7 to put himself in solid position ahead of a Friday morning tee time with fresh greens. He's a sneaky contender to win this title.