Kaymer sizzles at Sawgrass

A record-equalling nine-under-par 63 earned Martin Kaymer the first-round lead at the prestigious Players Championship.

All the talk before the tournament was about how Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar could overtake Tiger Woods as world number one if things go their way.

But it was former world number one Kaymer who was in charge on the opening day at Sawgrass.

Starting on the back nine the German was slow out of the blocks and turned at two under, but he lit up the course after that as he made seven birdies, including the final four holes.

That left him two shots ahead of Russell Henley with Sang-moon Bae another shot back and US Open champion Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Jordan Spieth and Lee Westwood in a group of eight tied for fourth at five under.

Kaymer’s 63 matched Fred Couples in 1992, Greg Norman in 1994 and Roberto Castro last year.

“I played a lot better the last four or five weeks,” he said. “I didn’t make that many mistakes recently which was nice; if you can keep the ball in play and take advantage of some chances it’s a nice bonus so overall I’m very happy the way I’m playing golf right now.

“The ball-striking has been a lot better the last two or three months. At the beginning I couldn’t make that many putts so I worked more on that the last few weeks and it worked out nicely.”

Henley was on fire on the back nine with six birdies and he also had three birdies in four holes on the front nine, but a double-bogey at the par-four seventh undid all the hard work.

Westwood was in early contention for the lead with a flawless five-under-par 67 and he was joined at that number by several high-profile players including Rose, Garcia, Spieth and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.

“One of those weird days in the game of golf,” Rose, who carded six birdies, said. “Had not much feel of anything that I was doing to be honest with you and having played quite well recently, it was a bit of an out-of-the-blue moment.

“Sometimes it lowers your expectation.”

Former world number one Rory McIlroy struggled to a two-under-par 70 to lie seven shots off the pace, with his round including four bogeys.

“I played well pretty much the whole way around, I just let a couple of shots get away from me at the end,” McIlroy said.

“So I’ll come out tomorrow and try and attack again, because I feel like you can go low on this golf course this week. It’s soft, the greens are receptive.”

Those in contention to replace Woods were not all at their best with Watson’s three-under-par 69 the best of the lot while Stenson and Kuchar carded 71s.

Scott, who would have overtaken Woods if he had not played, had a nightmare round with three double bogeys and two bogeys in his round of 77.

Five-time major winner Phil Mickelson also had a day to forget as he opened with a 75 with four bogeys and just one birdie.