Johnson headlines crowded leaderboard at Players Championship

Lynette Rowe
May 14, 2018

The lead belonged to just about everyone else. - Dustin Johnson is beginning to solve the puzzle that is the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass during The Players Championship.

Mickelson followed his 79 with a 73 and finished at 152, 8 over par. He settled for a T10 by week's end and now he's right back in the mix this week here in Ponte Vedra Beach. May.

The day's premier grouping included another player well versed in being No. 1, Tiger Woods, who played with Phil Mickelson at TPC Sawgrass for the first time since 2001 and for the first time overall since the 2014 PGA Championship. Justin Thomas is tied for 86th at 1 over while Rickie Fowler, the 2015 Players champion, is tied for 95th at 2 over. "It's fun to play golf courses like this, and it's also fun to play well on them".

A further six players, including defending champion, Si Woo Kim of Korea and former Sawgrass victor Matt Kuchar, share seventh place.

That's been the story of the TPC Sawgrass over the years - a design that doesn't favor one particular style of play. Rory was the only one to shoot under par out of the threesome.

Woods wasn't among them. He managed one more birdie on his closing nine to share the lead after the morning wave with Simpson and Noren.

"I think three bogeys is probably what halted a great round, but it's still not easy out there to keep a clean sheet".

Or maybe they were just bored.

Four players have a chance to surpass Johnson for No. 1 this week.

"But if I was to win again, I feel like it would be dreaming, as that's too hard". He liked the results. However, with calm winds and ideal scoring conditions in the morning, Johnson opened the tournament on the back nine and rolled in five birdies to make the turn at 5-under 31.

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He also made a 10-foot birdie at the par-5 second, and then didn't have many reasonable chances the rest of the way. The 66 was his best round by two shots, and only the fourth time he broke 70. "I'm just never inside that range which I should be with the irons I'm having". "I'm definitely surprised, but I think a lot of it has to do with putting". So it definitely works.

"I just putted better", said Johnson, who put in a new TaylorMade Spider putter in his bag and is using the AimPoint Express green reading technique.

"That's one thing I've struggled around here with, and today I rolled it nicely".

Rookies and veterans alike were in the group at 67.

PGA Tour rookie Keith Mitchell, who was an alternate and got into the field Wednesday afternoon when Paul Casey withdrew, shot a 4-under 68 to stand just two shots out of the lead. He wasted no time in placing his name on the leaderboard, shooting a 5-under par 31 on his opening nine, with birdies on holes 11, 12, 14, 16 and 18.

The veteran was 51-year-old Steve Stricker, who still can't decide whether to hang his hat in the big leagues or the senior circuit. That was enough to remind him he can still challenge the best.

"It was actually quieter out there than I thought it would be", McIlroy said. Two weeks in a row for me, last week Quail Hollow was ideal for me, as well. Back on putting surfaces he knows, Woods made a number of key putts. Woods hit his tee shot at 18 into the water, leading to a bogey and shot an even-par 72. Woods hit only five fairways.

"Before he hurt himself at Augusta a year ago, nobody could come close to beating him", Harmon said.

The feature group in the morning wasn't much better.

Garcia then undid his then bogey-free round in hitting the woodwork guarding the island green at the famed par-three 17th, his ball disappearing into the water.

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