Matsuyama equals Sawgrass course record to lead Players by two

Hideki Matsuyama hitting a shot at the Players' Championship

The Players Championship: first-round leaderboard
-9 H Matsuyama (Jpn); -7 C Bezuidenhout (SA), H English (US), SW Kim (Kor); -5 M Leishman (SA), P Cantlay (US); -4 W Simpson (US), R Cabrera Bello (Spa), G McDowell (NI)
Selected others:-3 D Willett (Eng), T Hatton (Eng), -2 I Poulter (Eng), M Kuchar (US); -1 I Thomas (US), Par R McIlroy (NI), M Fitzpatrick (Eng)

Hideki Matsuyama shot a nine-under 63 to equal the course record and claim a two-shot lead after the first round of the Players Championship at Sawgrass.

The Japanese player made eight bogeys and an eagle to hit the fifth first-round 63 in the tournament’s history.

Harris English, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and 2017 champion Kim Si-woo are two shots adrift on seven-under.

Defending champion Rory McIlroy struggled before making birdie on his last three holes to finish level par.

The Northern Irishman, who returned to world number one last month, is bidding to become the first player to win back-to-back Players titles

His compatriot Graeme McDowell continued his resurgence in form and a bid for a Ryder Cup return with a four-under 68 to sit five shots off the lead.

England’s Tyrrell Hatton followed his victory at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational with a three-under 69.

Although there were spectators for the opening round, the rest of the tournament will be played behind closed doors due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus.

McIlroy says organisers have made the correct decision to play without spectators, but believes all players should now be tested.

“I think for us to keep playing on Tour, all the players and people that are involved need to get tested and make sure no-one’s got it, because everyone knows you can have it and not have symptoms and pass it on to someone that’s more susceptible,” he said.

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