Garcia surges to two-shot Players Championship lead

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Sergio Garcia capped a sparkling seven-under 65 with his second eagle of the day Thursday to seize a two-shot lead in the first round of the US PGA Tour Players Championship.

The Spaniard, who won the Players in 2008 and lost in a playoff in 2015, steered well clear of the trouble that bedevilled playing partner Rory McIlroy and plenty of others at TPC Sawgrass, picking up four strokes in his last three holes to set an early target no one could catch.

Brian Harman came closest, firing a five-under par 67 for solo second before darkness halted play with 21 golfers still on the course. The round will resume on Friday morning.

Garcia polished things off with an 18-foot eagle putt at the ninth, his final hole of the day. He launched his closing burst with a 16-foot birdie at the seventh and drained a 17-footer for birdie at eight.

"I've always said it, Valderrama and this course are some of my top favorite ones and for some reason it just kind of fits my eye," Garcia said.

"I see what I want to do pretty much every hole and then it's a matter of doing it, but definitely I feel more comfortable and I've done well here. So all those things help."

Garcia followed his first birdie of the day at 15 with a nine-foot eagle at 16. He followed up his lone bogey of the day at the first with a birdie at the second.

And after his bravura finish, he was 14-strokes in front of McIlroy, the defending champion after his victory in 2019 thanks to the derailment of the 2020 edition by the coronavirus pandemic.

McIlroy opened his round with a double-bogey six at the 10th, where he hit his tee shot into the bushes and had to take a penalty.

After a three-putt bogey at 13, things got even worse with a quadruple-bogey at 18 -- where he hit two balls into the water and finally three-putted.

"I mean, regardless if you take that 18th hole out it still wasn't a very good day," said McIlroy, who said he just wasn't playing well enough to overcome mistakes.

"Very hard, especially when you're trying to figure it out as you go along on course, right?" he said. "You're trying to figure it out but you still know you're not really sure where the shots are coming from."

Harman was one-over through seven holes after three bogeys and two birdies, but he launched a run of four straight birdies at the ninth, then added birdies at 15 and 16 before saving par at 18 to finish five-under.

"I made a good swing on eight and then made two really good swings on nine," Harman said. "And after I drove it well on 10, I felt like I could kind of turn it loose a little bit and that's kind of what happened."

- DeChambeau four adrift -

Ireland's Shane Lowry twice got to five-under, regaining a share of second with a birdie at 17 before a closing bogey left him in a group on 68 alongside England's Matthew Fitzpatrick and Canadian Corey Conners.

Bryson DeChambeau, coming off a victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday, headed a group on 69 that also included Lee Westwood of England, Denny McCarthy and Tom Hoge.

World number one Dustin Johnson settled for a one-over par 73, while second-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain, three-over through 10 holes, had four birdies coming in before a bogey at 18 in an even-par 72.

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, who had fired a first-round 63 to lead last year before the tournament was halted due to Covid-19, opened with a four-over 76.

TPC Sawgrass' signature 17th hole, with it's treacherous island green, produced plenty of heartache, no one feeling it more than South Korean An Byeong-hun, who put four balls in the water on the way to an 11 at the par-three hole.

An, who then capped his 11-over 83 with a double-bogey six at 18, was able to laugh later, posting a video on Twitter of his multiple miscues at 17.

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