Martin Kaymer, playing instead of thinking, opens with record-tying 63 at Sawgrass

Phil Mickelson chips onto the 16th green during the first round of The Players championship golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass, Thursday, May 8, 2014, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Phil Mickelson chips onto the 16th green during the first round of The Players championship golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass, Thursday, May 8, 2014, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)  (The Associated Press)

Martin Kaymer used to worry about shots like this.

He stood on the tee at the par-5 second hole at the TPC Sawgrass, the wind slightly into him and to the right, the fairway bending slightly to the left. The tee shot requires a draw. Kaymer's specialty is a fade.

"I just told myself, 'You've done it many times before in Augusta.' You need to draw certain shots," Kaymer said. "That's being brave. If you hit a bad shot? OK, it happens. But at least you tried the shot. And I pulled it off, and I had a good eagle chance. Through those shots you gain confidence."

That's about as much thought as he poured into a record round Thursday in The Players Championship.

The German in Kaymer strives for perfection. The golfer in Kaymer plays by feel. There was a clash between the ears as he tried to develop his game to hit a variety of shots, and the former PGA champion believes he is reaching the point where he can see the shot and hit the shot without worries.

It took him to a 9-under 63, with birdies on the last four holes, to build a two-shot lead in the opening round.

That tied the course record on the Stadium Course held by three other players — Roberto Castro last year, Greg Norman in 1994 and Fred Couples in 1992. And that final birdie, an up-and-down from the back bunker on the par-5 ninth, made him the first player to shoot 29 on either of the nines.

Russell Henley had a 65 in the morning, while Bae Sang-moon had a 66 in the afternoon. The long list of players at 67 — all in the morning — included Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose.

Kaymer took advantage of a perfect day for scoring — warm weather, hardly any wind and soft greens.

There were 28 rounds in the 60s, which made the score by Adam Scott look even worse. With another chance — his best one yet — to get to No. 1 in the world for the first time, Scott finished with a pair of double bogeys from shots in the water and signed for a 77. It was his highest opening round at The Players since his first trip in 2002.

Phil Mickelson opened with a 75 and will need a low score Friday just to make the cut.

Kaymer wasn't willing to look too far ahead.

"Only a quarter of the tournament happened today," he said.

He has not won since the HSBC Champions in Shanghai at the end of 2011. He hasn't had a top-10 all year. But the 29-year-old German has felt his swing start to come together in recent weeks. His name has been featured on leaderboards more and more.

And he had a simple explanation.

"I stopped thinking," said Kaymer, a former world No. 1. "I thought a lot the last two years about swing changes ... that every shot I made I reflect on it, what I did wrong, what I did right."

A few weeks before the Masters, he spent time with longtime swing coach Gunter Kessler in Phoenix, and then they had another good session in Germany.

"And then it just clicked a little bit," he said. "I thought, 'OK, I know I can hit pretty much every shot when I needed to hit it.' If it's a draw, if it's a fade, low or high, I know that I can do it. It's just a matter of getting the confidence on the golf course and then letting it happen and really doing it."

Henley, who won the Honda Classic in a four-way playoff in March, made birdie on half of his holes to atone for one big mistake. He hooked a tee shot into the water on No. 7 and compounded that with a three-putt for double bogey. But he answered with six birdies on the back nine for a 65.

"I knew I was playing well and felt really comfortable on the greens," Henley said. "But it was one of those back nines where you get to 18 and I just realized that I had a putt for 7 under. So that was pretty cool."

Of the four players with a mathematical chance to reach No. 1, only Masters champion Bubba Watson broke 70. He had a 69, while Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar each had a 71. Only four players had a worse score than Scott.

Kaymer reached No. 1 three years ago, and then sought to change his swing because he could only hit a fade. He prefers to play by feel, not by mechanics. A swing change left him little choice but to think too much. Now, he can only hope it's as simple as see the shot and hit the ball.