The Players: Tommy Fleetwood leads, Rory McIlroy just two back at Sawgrass
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 15/03/19 2:03pm
Tommy Fleetwood made an ideal start to The Players Championship as he ended an entertaining first round tied for the lead with Keegan Bradley.
Fleetwood's early 65 at TPC Sawgrass looked likely to earn him the outright lead with conditions more difficult for the later starters, but he was reeled in by Bradley for the second week in succession on an opening day which produced an albatross at the 11th and a spectacular hole-in-one for Ryan Moore at the 17th.
Rory McIlroy clearly enjoyed the chance to be more aggressive on a course playing softer and longer than when the PGA Tour's flagship event was played in May, posting a five-birdie 67 and keeping a bogey off his card for only the second time on the Stadium Course.
Tiger Woods had only one par on the back-nine as he returned an erratic 70, but Justin Rose's bid to reclaim the world No 1 ranking from Dustin Johnson got off to a bad start as he stumbled to a 74 which included a triple-bogey at the first and a double-bogey at the fifth.
First round as it happened
How the action unfolded on day one of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass
But there were no such problems for his fellow Englishman Fleetwood, who missed a good early chance for birdie at the 11th - his second - before atoning with an excellent up-and-down from a greenside bunker at 12.
He covered the remainder of the back-nine in six pars before breaking that run with birdies at the first and second, and after he picked up another at five, he holed three lengthy putts on each of his last three holes to card a superb front-nine 30 and enter the clubhouse with the outright lead ahead of Byeong Hun An and Brian Harman.
However, Bradley defied a strengthening breeze and a firmer, faster course to fire the best score of the afternoon starters although, unlike Fleetwood, the American did most of his damage on the back-nine as he made four birdies and an eagle at 16 following a superb 230-yard second to 10 feet.
Bradley also birdied the first and holed from 15 feet on the seventh to join Fleetwood at the top of the leaderboard, but he was unable to take advantage of the par-five ninth and settled for a closing par and a repeat of his halfway share of the lead with the Englishman at last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational.
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McIlroy, meanwhile, was able to unleash his driver far more often than in his previous appearances and cruised to the turn in 33 before adding further birdies at the second and fifth as he looks to extend his impressive run of five consecutive top-six finishes on the PGA Tour this year.
Shot of the day belonged to Moore, who sent the vast crowd surrounding the 17th hole into raptures with a slam-dunk hole-in-one, just the ninth on the iconic par-three and the first since Sergio Garcia's ace in 2017.
Moore would go on to hand in a 67 just before sunset after he three-putted his final hole, joining McIlroy and Vaughn Taylor on five under.
Matt Wallace made an encouraging start to his Players Championship debut with a solid four-birdie 69, one of several three-under rounds on the opening day which included the likes of Ian Poulter, the Spanish duo of Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm, world No 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning Masters champion Patrick Reed.
Woods got off to a wayward start, dropped an early shot at the third and struggled to threaten any flags until he got a 15-foot birdie putt to drop at the seventh before missing a good chance for another gain from inside 10 feet at nine.
His closing nine was a roller-coaster affair in which he mixed five birdies with three bogeys, including a six at the 11th after his second found the water, and his excellent birdie at 17 was followed by a missed par-putt from four feet at the last before he trudged off to sign for a 70.
Former champions Jason Day and Adam Scott were also two under for the day along with Harris English, who recorded only the fifth albatross-two in tournament history when he holed a perfect 236-yard long-iron at the 11th.
But Bay Hill champion Francesco Molinari (72) finds himself seven behind his record-breaking Ryder Cup partner, while Rose, Phil Mickelson and 2015 winner Rickie Fowler all have work to do to avoid an early exit as they begin the second round on two-over par.