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Players Championship: TPC Sawgrass evacuated as thunderstorms roll into Florida

Tommy Fleetwood is making his fifth appearance at the Players and has two top-10 finishes
-6 T Fleetwood (Eng), T Hoge (US); -5 K Hickok (US), J Niemann (Chi), K Mitchell (US), A Lahiri (Ind)
Selected: -3 J Rahm (Spa); -2 P Casey (Eng), T Hatton (Eng), L Westwood (Eng)*, D Johnson (US)*, B Koepka (US)*, J Rose (Eng)*; -1 R Knox (Sco); E M Laird (Sco), R McIlroy (NI), J Thomas (US)*
* denotes yet to complete round one

England’s Tommy Fleetwood made a superb start to the Players Championship as thunderstorms saw the evacuation of TPC Sawgrass while Ian Poulter sprinted to complete his round before darkness.

Fleetwood shot a six-under-par 66 to share the lead with American Tom Hoge but more than half the field were unable to finish their opening rounds.

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy played just two holes before the light faded.

Further disruption is expected on Friday with more storms forecast.

McIlroy, who won the PGA Tour’s flagship event in 2019, teed off 35 minutes before sunset at 17:57 (22:57 GMT) alongside last year’s winner Justin Thomas and reigning Open champion Collin Morikawa.

At the other side of the course, Poulter was galloping round the lake on the iconic par-three 17th ‘island hole’ to huge cheers in an attempt to ensure a lie-in on Friday.

He had knocked his tee shot to three feet and with the minimum of fuss, holed his birdie putt. The Englishman then raced to the 18th tee, knowing that if he hit his drive before the closing siren, he would be able to complete the hole.

He alerted those ahead of him and then lashed a wild drive way to the right. But his efforts meant his group finished the hole and he signed for a one-over 73.

Fleetwood ‘happy’ with round one

The bright sunshine at the end of the day was in stark contrast to the conditions faced by those out early. Overnight and morning rain had already led to the start being delayed by an hour.

Three hours later, darker clouds rolled in and the threat of electrical storms took everyone off the course as rain saturated an already sodden course.

“I was quite happy when the delay came,” said Fleetwood, who had started his round on the 10th. “You knew it was coming at some point.”

He returned to hole a 10-foot birdie putt on the second, explaining that he was “lucky” that the practice putting green was just 20 yards from the second green.

“It worked out really well; to be able to practice a similar putt and then walk straight over to the green and hit it. That putt was a great way to get going again,” he said.

“We had a lot of waiting around but amazing conditions to score in. It was soft, we were playing preferred lies (cleaning and placing the ball if it was on the fairway) and there was never loads of wind, but you still have to hit the shots.

“I’m really happy to be done and we’ll see what happens the next few days.”

The ‘island hole’ strikes

American Harold Varner III looked set to post the clubhouse lead after he holed six birdies in eight holes from the ninth.

He was all smiles as he walked the 100 yards or so from the 16th green to the 17th tee, two clear of the field on seven under par.

But with the soft greens proving more receptive than usual, his tee shot spun back off the putting surface to become the first ball of the day to go in the water on that hole. A triple-bogey six was followed by a bogey on the last as he signed for a three-under 69.

World number one Jon Rahm also opened with a 69, while England’s Paul Casey finished with three successive birdies as he bounced back from a triple-bogey seven on the 10th – his first hole – to card 70.

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