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Fleetwood, Bradley tied for lead after wild first day at Players

The Associated Press

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — March or May, there is no shortage of excitement at The Players Championship.

Tiger Woods made only one par on the back nine Thursday, revving up the crowd with five birdies, only to slow his charge with three mistakes.

Emiliano Grillo hit the pin on the island-green 17th and the ball nearly bounced into the water. One group later, Ryan Moore heard the “clink” of ball hitting pin on the fly and heard only cheers for the ninth hole-in-one on the 17th at TPC Sawgrass.

Harris English had an albatross 2. Kiradech Aphibarnrat had an 84.

There were 23 eagles. Fifty players had a double bogey or worse.

When the day ended, Keegan Bradley and Tommy Fleetwood went different routes to reach the same score and share the lead at 7-under 65.

Bradley got off to a fast start and had three putts for eagle, making one of them. Fleetwood had a big finish with three straight birdie putts of 15 feet or longer.

“If you like golf, you should like this golf course, really,” Fleetwood said. “It’s just about as fair as you’re going to get a test. If you hit it well like I did today, you’re going to have chances and you can shoot a score, and people are shooting scores. But you can also get it the other way, as soon as you start struggling and start going the other way, it can easily go against you. It’s an amazing course for that.”

Woods hit a shot off a spectator’s ankle on the first hole, clipped a tree off the tee on the second hole, managed to get through the front nine, and then thought he might be able to take advantage late in the afternoon as the wind began to die.

He did, and then he didn’t.

A birdie was followed by a ball in the water on the par-5 11th for a bogey. Two birdies were followed by a shot in the rough-covered mounds. Two more birdies were followed by a missed par putt from 4 feet. It added to a 70, the 17th time in 18 starts at The Players he failed to break 70. The exception was 2013, when he last won.

“I felt like I could have got something in the 60s today and got off to not actually the best of starts today,” Woods said. “I hit some bad shots early, rectified that, made a few adjustments, and then went about my business. And then the back nine, there’s nine holes on the back nine, made one par. So that was interesting.”

The move from May after 11 years to its traditional March spot on the calendar brought green, softer conditions and more wind than usual, though it was out of the typical May direction. With the rye overseed making the moderate rough more predictable, players took aim.

Fleetwood had only one birdie on the slightly easier back nine, and finished with birdie putts from 15 feet, 30 feet and 18 feet.

“You get on a run like 7, 8, 9, and it feels great after that,” Fleetwood said. “Just one of them would feel like a great round, so three of them … I’ll take it.”

Byeong Hun An and Brian Harman were at 66, while Rory McIlroy also played bogey-free for a 67. He was in a group with Moore, who used a 54-degree wedge for his ace on the 17th.

“The group right before me, we were walking up 16 … I think it was Grillo hit the pin about 2 inches above the cup and almost went back in the water,” Moore said. “I heard mine clink and I was just waiting to go see where the ball went. And then no ball showed up.”