No practice round is no problem for Mickelson

Masters victor Sergio Garcia produced the shot of the day, landing only the eighth ever hole-in-one on TPC Sawgrass's iconic "Island Green" par-three 17th, but he struggled overall to a one-over 73.

Holmes, Alex Noren of Sweden, Chez Reavie and Jon Rahm of Spain are a shot back after shooting 68s, and 11 players, including Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, Francesco Molinari of Italy, Daniel Berger and Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain are another stroke back after finishing in 69.

And just to balance affairs, two past champions from Australia, Jason Day and Adam Scott, had the lead and the tournament firmly in hand during their rounds, only to let it slip from their grasp with loose shots to fall back in the pack. "If I have a good day tomorrow, I'll still be in good shape".

William McGirt and Mackenzie Hughes are joint-leaders after the opening round.

"The round today it was very solid", Hughes said.

McIlroy, who is tied for 43rd at the PGA Tour event, said his eagerness to return to action may have led to the setback. He said his head was "up in the clouds, and when I woke up, I was 4-over after six [holes]", but he was obviously happy with his finish, which included a birdie at the 16th. I eagled 16 past year for the first time.

"I hit two flawless shots and I make a 5 on No 1", he said.

"I hit a couple of tee shots practising on Monday and just didn't feel right and I've been getting treatment on it", McIlroy said. It was gusting quite a bit so it was hard to pick the clubs but I managed to play very nicely, hit a lot of fairways, hit a lot of greens for the conditions and made some really good putts.

"Hopefully, all going well, we get back on".

Fast starts and tough finishes were the norm.

Garcia said that the hole-in-one was the 12th he'd ever hit, including five in tournaments and seven in practice.

Phil Mickelson is three shots back and one ahead of Dustin Johnson, who hasn't finished lower than second in his last four starts.

"My short game was a little off", said Blayne Barber, who led for much of the first round in his PLAYERS debut before a double-bogey at 15 and a bogey at 17 sent him off with a 2-under 70.

First, he watched Masters champion Sergio Garcia salvage his poor round by making a hole-in-one at the infamous island green. "I'm not going to lie (though), it does help (my confidence) to win a Major".

Alex Noren, a four-time victor on the European Tour last season, bogeyed the last for a 72 and the Swede will go into the final round alongside Garcia on five under, while Francesco Molinari (69) and Garcia's compatriot Rafa Cabrera Bello (73) are a further shot adrift.

Further down the leaderboard, Rory McIlroy was still struggling to rediscover his top form in his first event since the Masters, after which he got married and signed a multi-million pound equipment deal with TaylorMade. "An under-par round will be key to get back in it".

  • Julie Sanders