Poulter in prime position

Ian Poulter’s good form in the US continued as he moved into contention on the opening day of The Players Championship.

Ian Poulter’s good form in the United States continued on the opening day of The Players Championship as he moved into contention at TPC Sawgrass two shots off the first round lead held by American Ben Crane.
Fresh from a tie for fifth place at last week’s Quail Hollow Championship, the Englishman carded a five-under-par 67 at the Players Stadium Course.
Crane took the overnight lead with an opening seven-under-par 65, with Germany’s Alex Cejka, Richard S Johnson of Sweden and American John Mallinger tied for second on six under following 66s.
Poulter was part of an eight-man group on five under and in a tie for fifth place alongside Retief Goosen of South Africa, Camilo Villegas of Colombia and Americans Brad Adamonis, Scott Verplank, David Toms, Bubba Watson and Jonathan Byrd.
Poulter got his opening round up and running with a run of three birdies in a row between the fourth and sixth holes before bogeying the par-five ninth.
He bounced straight back with a birdie three at the 10th and then moved onto the leaderboard with birdies at the 16th and 17th, and completing the notoriously difficult closing stretch by saving par at the par-four 18th having found greenside rough.
“I’ve played one week on, one week off until just after the Masters, so it’s been hard to get into a routine,” Poulter said, “But my game’s been in shape since then and I felt it was only a matter of time.
“This is my third week in a row and it’s nice that I’ve only had seven tournaments going into this week and I feel fresh.”
Poulter was also pleased with his putting after needing just 26 putts in his opening round.
“I changed to a putter two weeks ago that the ball comes off a bit slower and the greens have been very quick the past couple of weeks and I just feel good,” he added. “I’m rolling the ball in the hole and managing to find the back of the hole.”
India’s Jeev Milkha Singh, Australian Nick O’Hern, American Jim Furyk and Henrik Stenson of Sweden formed part of a large group on four under.
Justin Rose, Paul Casey and Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark shot two-under-par 70s, while defending champion Sergio Garcia got off to a strong start off the 10th tee and was out in three-under-par.
Yet the Spaniard, who landed the biggest victory of his career at the Players Stadium Course 12 months ago, shipped a double-bogey five at the eighth to come home in 38 and finish the opening day at one under.
“I think it’s been a while since I hit the ball that badly, but I don’t know, I’ll find a way,” Garcia said, having made his bid to become the first player in the tournament’s 35-year history to successfully defend his title an awful lot harder.
Garcia was in illustrious company at one under with world number one Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh.
Woods was again striving to find his complete game, this time striking the ball to his liking but failing to get his putter going, missing eight birdie putts inside 15 feet.
“I didn’t hit good putts,” Woods said. “My speed was off early, then I got my speed down at the end and I kept lipping out putts.
“I just need to obviously read them better or hit better putts, one of the two.”
Scotland’s Martin Laird and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland also finished with 71s but McDowell’s compatriot Rory McIlroy suffered a baptism of fire over the closing holes at Sawgrass.
Having birdied the par-five 16th to go to two under, the 20-year-old shipped a triple bogey at the par-three 17th island Hole and then bogeyed the 18th to finish at two over.
Ireland’s Padraig Harrington carded level par 72, one clear of world number two Phil Mickelson.
(USA unless stated, par 72):

65 Ben Crane
66 Richard S Johnson (Swe), John Mallinger, Alex Cejka (Ger)
67 Brad Adamonis, Jason Dufner, Retief Goosen (Rsa), David Toms, Bubba Watson, Ian Poulter (Eng), Camilo Villegas (Col), Jonathan Byrd, Scott Verplank
68 Jeev Milkha Singh (Ind), Nick Watney, John Rollins, Jim Furyk, Tim Petrovic, Nick O’Hern (Aus), Henrik Stenson (Swe)
69 Johnson Wagner, Mark Wilson
70 Soren Kjeldsen (Den), Rodney Pampling (Aus), Charley Hoffman, John Merrick, Billy Mayfair, Geoff Ogilvy (Aus), Stewart Cink, Chez Reavie, Paul Casey (Eng), Justin Leonard, George McNeill, Fredrik Jacobson (Swe), Justin Rose (Eng), Ken Duke, Stephen Ames (Can)
71 Michael Letzig, Tiger Woods, Jeff Overton, Sergio Garcia (Spa), Martin Kaymer (Ger), Ben Curtis, Jeff Klauk, Vijay Singh (Fij), Bo Van Pelt, Martin Laird (Sco), Stuart Appleby (Aus), Brian Davis (Eng), Steve Stricker, Graeme McDowell (NIrl), Adam Scott (Aus), Scott Piercy, Aaron Baddeley (Aus), Kevin Na, Michael Allen, Ryan Moore
72 Vaughn Taylor, Woody Austin, Steve Marino, Brett Quigley, Mike Weir (Can), Ryuji Imada (Jpn), Briny Baird, Jason Bohn, Pat Perez, Zach Johnson, Eric Axley, Joe Ogilvie, John Senden (Aus), Matt Kuchar, Angel Cabrera (Arg), Cliff Kresge, Dustin Johnson, J.B. Holmes, Cameron Beckman, Tim Clark (Rsa), Padraig Harrington (Irl)
73 Jeff Quinney, Kevin Sutherland, Charles Howell III, Will MacKenzie, Sean O’Hair, Ernie Els (Rsa), Boo Weekley, Nicholas Thompson, Y.E. Yang (Kor), Jerry Kelly, Dudley Hart, Lucas Glover, Davis Love III, Fred Funk, Steve Elkington (Aus), Kenny Perry, Hunter Mahan, Phil Mickelson, Anthony Kim, J J Henry, Robert Allenby (Aus), Trevor Immelman (Rsa), K J Choi (Kor), Rocco Mediate, Troy Matteson
74 Ross Fisher (Eng), Bart Bryant, Greg Kraft, Todd Hamilton, Thongchai Jaidee (Tha), Tommy Armour III, Robert Karlsson (Swe), Nathan Green (Aus), Rory McIlroy (NIrl), Bill Haas, Scott McCarron, Tom Pernice Jnr., Kevin Streelman, Charlie Wi (Kor), Andres Romero (Arg), Corey Pavin, Luke Donald (Eng), Carl Pettersson (Swe), D.J. Trahan
75 Tim Herron, Steve Flesch, Heath Slocum, Parker McLachlin, Daniel Chopra (Swe), Bob Estes, Chad Campbell, Ryan Palmer
76 Mathew Goggin (Aus), Marc Turnesa, Matt Bettencourt, Webb Simpson
77 Dean Wilson, Tim Wilkinson (Nzl), Peter Lonard (Aus)
78 Paul Goydos
80 Michael Bradley, Brian Gay, Fred Couples
81 Rory Sabbatini (Rsa), Steve Lowery