The Brits lead at Sawgrass

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England’s Ian Poulter and Scotland’s Martin Laird shared the lead after the first round of the Players Championship.

England’s Ian Poulter and Scotland’s Martin Laird were tied for the lead at the Players Championship after each fired 7-under 65s in Thursday’s opening round.

World No 1 Rory McIlroy had to settle for an even-par 72 after putting his ball in the water trying to find TPC Sawgrass’ famed island green at the par-three 17th while Tiger Woods continued to struggle to find his a A game.

Indeed the once invincible World No 1 is in danger of missing a second consecutive cut after shooting a two-over 74.

Lee Westwood won the battle of the three European invaders who top the World ranking list thanks to McIlroy’s misadventure at the 17th, but along with another of the big guns, Phil Mickelson, the England World No 3 had a much slower start than he would have wanted.

Both shot 1-under 71s to be six shots off the pace heading into Friday’s second round and it was the unheralded Blake Adams who carried the US flag the highest on day one of an event regarded by many as the season’s fifth Major.

Adams shot a six-under-par 66 to set the early pace at a sunny Sawgrass, but fellow Americans Kevin Na and Ben Crane were close behind him, just one shot back after posting 67s

Laird was the only player in the 144-man field who finished the first round without bogey on his card and if anything, it was his solid and consistent putting that was mainly responsible for this.

“Any time you go around this golf course bogey-free is obviously a very good day,” said Laird, who picked up his first US title in Florida last year, when he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

“I missed a few greens out there from good spots in the middle of the fairways, but then managed to scramble really well and chipped close,.but the key was the putter and any time I had a chance for birdie, I rolled it in.”

Poulter, who was second here in 2009, started confidently and finished that way after making just one bogey.

Key to his rounds was a notable run of nine one putt holes.

“It was a very, very good round of golf. That’s definitely in the top 10 of all the rounds of golf I’ve ever played,” he said.

Poulter put some of his first-round success down to a clear mind.

A two-year saga over the building of a new home in Orlando is about to end. He moves in with his family this weekend.

“I do fill my brain full of lots of funny things at times,” he said. “It’s nice when that’s empty and I can do what it is I love to do – go out there and play golf.

“Last week I was filling boxes and opening boxes – I barely hit a shot.

“So it’s no surprise to me to be fresh in the mind this week. I’m relaxed and the family are happy – all of the hassle and stress is over.”

McIlroy, meanwhile, may rue his slip at the 17th.

His World No 1 crown is anything but safe this week, but his double bogey five there was still four strokes better than the sextuple bogey nine that two-time major winner Angel Canberra picked up on the hole.

Three shots into the pond surrounding the 17th green saw his score plummet from level-par to a soul-destroying six over.

Cabrera, who ended up with a 78, won’t be back. For the second time in a month the Argentine veteran has withdrawn from a PGA Tour event for “personal reasons”.

He quit the Zurich Classic after a 75.

The Top 10 leaderboard

65 Martin Laird (Sco), Ian Poulter (Eng)

66 Blake Adams (USA)

67 Kevin Na (USA), Ben Crane (USA)

68 Brian Davis (Eng), Adam Scott (Aus), Ben Curtis (USA), Matt Kuchar (USA), Harrison Frazar (USA), Michael Thompson (USA), Kevin Stadler (USA), Bill Haas (USA), Sang-moon Bae (Kor), Jonathan Byrd (USA), Jhonattan Vegas (Ven)

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