Poulter, Laird lead at Sawgrass
Ian Poulter (Gallo Images)
Florida - Ian Poulter and Martin Laird shared the first-round lead at the PGA Tour's $9.5 million Players Championship on Thursday on seven-under par 65.
England's Poulter put together four birdies in a row around the turn, finishing the day with eight birdies and one bogey, while Scotland's Laird birdied his final hole of an error-free round to join Poulter atop the leaderboard.
They were one stroke in front of American Blake Adams, who posted a 66 at TPC Sawgrass. Kevin Na and Ben Crane were at five-under 67.
Tiger Woods, who missed the cut at Quail Hollow last week, was conspicuously absent from the leaderboard, firing a first-round 74.
"I didn't get a lot out of that round," Woods said. "It should have been probably one or two-under par. I just didn't score."
That certainly wasn't a problem for Poulter, who birdied all of the par-5 holes and called his round "definitely probably in the top 10 rounds of golf I have ever played."
"From nine, I had nine single putts," Poulter noted. "I didn't realize until someone just told me. All of those were decent chances, putts you would expect to hole.
"There are a number of shots around this golf course which I get a good visual on and I guess it kind of focuses my mind, which is always good," he added.
Laird teed off on 10 and birdied 11 and 12. He made a brace of birdie putts from inside 10 feet at 16 and 17 to make the turn at four-under.
At the par-5 second, Laird rolled in a 16-footer for birdie. He drove into a bunker at the fifth, but got up and down for birdie to get within one shot of Poulter.
He joined Poulter at seven-under at the par-5 ninth, where he missed the green with his second shot, but pitched on to within six feet and made the putt.
"To go bogey-free around here is extremely satisfying," said Laird, who was the only player to do so on Thursday.
Poulter, whose lone US victory came in the 2010 World Golf Championships Match Play Championship, was third at Bay Hill in March and seventh at the Masters last month, after which he played in China and South Korea.
After birdies on the par-5 second and par-4 fourth, Poulter took his lone bogey of the day at the seventh. He answered by running off four birdies in a row starting at the par-5 ninth.
"I played really solid today and holed the right putts at the right times," Poulter said. "I feel like I'm back to normal and I feel like I'm out there playing the golf I feel I should be playing."
Among those tied on four-under 68 were Australian Adam Scott and Americans Bill Haas and Ben Curtis.
World number one Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald -- who has been exchanging the top ranking with McIlroy for the past two months -- both opened with even par 72s.
Leading scores on Thursday after the first round of the $9.5 million US PGA Players Championship: (USA unless noted, par-72):
65 - Ian Poulter (GBR), Martin Laird (GBR)
66 - Blake Adams
67 - Kevin Na, Ben Crane
68 - Michael Thompson, Harrison Frazar, Matt Kuchar, Kevin Stadler, Jhonattan Vegas (VEN), Jonathan Byrd, Adam Scott (AUS), Ben Curtis, Bill Haas, Brian Davis (GBR), Sang-Moon Bae (KOR)
69 - Pat Perez, Kris Blanks, Arjun Atwal (IND), Padraig Harrington (IRL), Sean O'Hair, David Toms, David Hearn (CAN), Brendon de Jonge (ZIM), Johnson Wagner, Ryan Moore, J.J. Killeen