Tommy Fleetwood and Keegan Bradley continued their recent strong form to set the pace with seven-under-par 65s in the first round at the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Florida.
Six days after sharing the halfway lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Englishman Fleetwood and American Bradley renewed their acquaintance atop the leaderboard.
Fleetwood set a target when he piled up six birdies on the more difficult front nine for his bogey-free 65 at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Of the South Africans in the field, it was Rory Sabbatini playing under the flag of Slovakia, who fared best, with an opening 68 leaving him in a tie for eighth and only three off the lead. Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace both signed for 73s, while Charl Schwartzel compiled a three-over-par 75.
‘You can only play yourself out of it in round one. I’ve done a good job of keeping myself in it,’ Fleetwood said.
Bradley matched the score with an eagle, six birdies and single a bogey in the afternoon.
The pair lead by one stroke from South Korean An Byeong-hun and American Brian Harman.
Another American, Ryan Moore, made the ninth hole-in-one in tournament history at the famous island-green 17th, where he slam-dunked a sand wedge from 120 yards.
The effort helped lift him to within two shots of the lead, along with Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy and compatriot Vaughn Taylor, after a 67.
Tiger Woods was equal 35th after an entertaining 70 that included six birdies and four bogeys. He had only one par on the back nine.
Fleetwood, who played the back nine first, did not take advantage of still conditions early, instead making his move after the wind had started to make its presence felt.
‘The wind picked up and there were some tough holes there,’ he said. ‘But I drove it so well I was always in a good position.
‘If you hit it well like I did today you’re going to have chances and you can shoot a score.’
World No 13 Fleetwood has won four times on the European Tour, but is still seeking his breakthrough on the PGA Tour.
He came close last year at the US Open, where he finished a stroke behind champion Brooks Koepka after a closing 63.
‘Expectation’s a tricky thing. It’s clearly the next step for me to win over here, but winning’s not easy and I’ve just got to keep plodding away,’ Fleetwood said.
Bradley sounded almost serene after his 65.
‘It’s probably one of my most complete rounds all year,’ said the world No 34.
‘I don’t normally feel as comfortable as I did today. I felt very calm, and this is a course that can make you very uncomfortable, so when you have that feeling you can really go a long way.”
Most of the big names started smoothly, but world No 2 Justin Rose was a notable exception.
His 74 included a triple-bogey at his 10th hole, the par-four first, where he took five shots to hole out from a greenside bunker.
While Rose dropped three shots in one hole, Harris English, an American despite his name, picked up the same number with an albatross at the par-five 11th, where his second shot from 235 yards landed softly a couple of paces in front of the cup and rolled in. English shot 70.
Photo: Tommy Fleetwood, by Sam Greenwood