Scheffler chases McIlroy as PGA Tour stars impress at The Players

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Scheffler chases McIlroy as PGA Tour stars impress at The Players

Rory McIlroy is part of a three-way tie for the lead after a low-scoring opening round at The Players, where Matt Fitzpatrick impressed and Scottie Scheffler made a strong start to his title defence.

McIlroy showed signs of a return to form when he fired 10 birdies in a seven-under 65 at TPC Sawgrass, where he was also involved in a long debate over a penalty drop with his playing partners on his way to grabbing the early clubhouse lead with Xander Schauffele.

US Open champion Wyndham Clark made it a three-way tie at the top after three birdies in his last four holes, while Fitzpatrick moved within one of the lead alongside Nick Taylor as he looks to become the first English winner of The Players.

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Matt Fitzpatrick eagled the par-five 16th hole at TPC Sawgrass after an in-depth chat with caddie Billy Foster ahead of hitting his shot to a few feet

World No 1 Scheffler recovered from an opening-hole bogey to post a five-under 67 as he targets back-to-back victories at the event, with Jason Day and Ryder Cup rookie Ludvig Åberg also two back and part of a star-studded leaderboard.

Limited daylight in Florida left nine players unable to complete their opening round before play was suspended at 7.32pm local time (11.32pm GMT) due to darkness, with Jimmy Stanger – two back with two play – among those yet to finish.

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Low-scoring day at Sawgrass

McIlroy made a lightning start as he made six birdies in his opening eight holes on Thursday morning, then responded to scrambling a bogey at the 18th after finding water off the tee to add three more birdies in a five-hole stretch from the second.

The Northern Irishman’s hopes of a possible course record ended when his tee shot at the par-four seventh also ended up in the hazard, with the location of where he dropped the ball causing a long discussion with playing partners Jordan Spieth and Viktor Hovland.

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Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland and Jordan Spieth couldn’t seem to agree on where to drop Rory’s ball after his shot landed out of bounds on the seventh hole at The Players Championship

McIlroy insisted his conscience was clear from the drop and was adamant that the ball had bounced inside the hazard line before finding the water, but ended up carding a double-bogey before signing off with a birdie at the ninth – his final hole of the day.

“I was pretty sure that my ball had crossed where I was sort of dropping it,” McIlroy said. “It’s so hard, right, because there was no TV evidence. If anything I was being conservative with it. I think at the end of the day we’re all trying to protect ourselves and protect the field, as well.”

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Rory McIlroy insists he needs to ‘keep at it’ after a brilliant performance on the opening day at The Players

Schauffele, playing in the group ahead of McIlroy, charged up the leaderboard with five birdies in a six-hole stretch around the turn to make a bogey-free start to the week and set the initial clubhouse target.

The pair held a share of the lead until Clark produced a spectacular back-nine birdie run, where he rolled in from 20 feet at the 15th before taking advantage of the par-five next and birdied the 17th to join the group on seven under.

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Clark was unable to find a final-hole birdie for the outright advantage, while Fitzpatrick produced a birdie-eagle burst on his back nine to close out a six-under 66, and Taylor is also one back after a bogey-free start to the tournament.

Ryan Fox made history when he followed an eagle at the par-five 16th with a stunning hole-in-one at the par-three 17th, with the New Zealander seeing his tee shot pitch 10 feet past the pin and spin back into the hole.

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Ryan Fox made the first hole-in-one of the 2024 edition of The Players with a stunning tee shot at the iconic par-three 17th

Fox is four off the lead after a three-under 69 and Tommy Fleetwood is a further stroke back after a triple-bogey on the seventh, with Hovland opening with a one-over 73 and Spieth struggling to a two-over 74.

Watch The Players live throughout the week on Sky Sports. Live coverage of the second round begins on Friday from 11.30am on Sky Sports Golf. Stream the PGA Tour and more with NOW.

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