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Johnson in lead group at Players

The Associated Press

Dustin Johnson hits from the 11th tee during the first round of The Players Championship on Thursday.

The Associated PressPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The PGA Tour gave its premier tournament even more sizzle by putting Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler in the same group Thursday afternoon. For the undercard, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas played together in the morning.

None was anywhere near the lead at The Players Championship.

McIlroy was the only player from those two groups who managed to break par. He shot 1-under 71.

The best golf — and there was plenty of it on an ideal opening round for scoring — was all around them.

Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson and Alex Noren set the pace early. Matt Kuchar, Chesson Hadley and Patrick Cantlay joined them late. All were at 66, part of the largest share of the lead in the opening round at the TPC Sawgrass, and the most players tied at the top at The Players in 40 years.

“If you’re on your game, this course suits you,” Kuchar said.

That’s been the story of the TPC Sawgrass over the years — a design that doesn’t favor one particular style of play. That notion was on overdrive in warm sunshine and moderate wind, conditions so ideal that 12 players were separated by one shot after the opening round, and 68 players in the 144-man field broke par.

Woods wasn’t among them. He shot 72 in his first time at The Players in three years. Neither was Mickelson, who had three double bogeys on the back nine and shot 79. Fowler shot 74.

“Toward the back nine, it started getting a little sparse,” Woods said. “I think they might have tipped back a couple and got a little sleepy.”

Or maybe they were just bored.

There was plenty of excitement elsewhere.

Johnson played like he was determined to keep the No. 1 ranking, which he could lose if he finishes 12th or worse. And he putted like he was fed up with not seeing enough go in. He tried the “AimPoint” method that some players use to help them read the greens. He liked the results.

Johnson started on No. 10 and went out in 31, and when he rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-5 second hole, he was on his way. Johnson only gave himself a few reasonable chances the rest of the way, though he was more than happy with his 66. It was his best score on the Stadium Course, and only his fourth time in the 60s.

“I was just not making enough putts,” Johnson said. “It’s definitely helped. Because I’m a feel putter, anyway, and so the way you’re doing it really is you’re just feeling. So it definitely works.”Speech

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