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Sergio Garcia races into lead at Players Championship

Sergio Garcia leads 1st round of 2021 Players Championship
Sergio Garcia tees off at the par-4 18th hole Thursday at TPC Sawgrass en route to a 7-under 65 and the 1st-round lead at the PGA Tour's Players Championship.

After nearly missing tee time, Spaniard shoots 7-under 65 at TPC Sawgrass as he bids for a 2nd title at PGA Tour's premier event

There’s an old adage in golf that a 72-hole tournament is more of a marathon than a sprint. For Sergio Garcia this week, the PGA Tour’s Players Championship has taken on elements of both.

Garcia had to race from the practice range to the 10th tee, where he was scheduled to begin play at 7:40 a.m. Thursday at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. He made it with, he estimates, about a minute to spare.

“I thought I had plenty of time,” the Spaniard said upon realizing that, alas, he didn’t.

After having nearly run afoul of Rule 5.3a ("Starting and Ending Round"), Garcia found that his game appeared right on cue. Garcia dissected the demanding Stadium Course, hitting 10 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens. He eagled two par 5s, including his final hole, the ninth, and played his last three holes in 4 under to cap a 7-under 65. Garcia leads by two strokes entering Friday’s second round of the PGA Tour's premier event, which will pay the winner $2.7 million from the $15 million prize fund. Play was suspended at 6:32 p.m. because of darkness, with 27 players still on the course (scores).

American Brian Harman stood second at 5-under 67. England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, Canada’s Corey Conners and Ireland’s Shane Lowry shared third at 68.

Bryson DeChambeau, who won the Arnold Palmer Invitational four days earlier, shared sixth place at 69. DeChambeau had prompted the PGA Tour to take action on Tuesday in response to his claim that he might drive left of the lake at the dogleg-left 18th hole and try to outsmart the late designer Pete Dye. After the area was declared to be out of bounds, he pumped a 4-iron 258 yards down the middle of the 462-yard hole and made a conventional two-putt par.

The 18th hole, like all of TPC Sawgrass, offers no chance to take it easy.

“It definitely tests every aspect of your game out here,” DeChambeau said, “and you have to be on point.”

Americans Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth joined U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker in a group of 14 players tied for 12th at 70.

Americans Phil Mickelson, Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas were among a group at 71. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson of the U.S. shot 73.

Garcia, 41, who won the 2008 Players title, said TPC Sawgrass and Valderrama, the former Ryder Cup site in his homeland, rate among his favorite courses.

“I don't know,” he said. “I just love it. I've always said it: Valderrama and this course are some of my top favorite ones, and for some reason just kind of fits my eye. I see what I want to do pretty much every hole, and then it's a matter of doing it, but I feel more comfortable and I've done well. So, all those things help.”

Garcia, the 2017 Masters champion, won the Sanderson Farms Championship in October, but has posted no top-10 result in seven starts on the PGA Tour since that 11th career victory.

Garcia holed three putts totaling 52 feet on his final three holes to surge into the clubhouse lead that held up throughout the day. At the par-3 No. 8, which played 226 yards into a breeze, Garcia hit a “cut 3-iron” to 18 feet and then went to school on playing competitor’s Webb Simpson putt.

“That was a bit of a bonus,” Garcia said.

He capped his round with a drive and 5-wood to 18 feet at the par-5 ninth hole, leaving “a really nice uphill putt” that he holed for eagle.

“Because the greens were soft, it was like it was tough to control your spin,” Garcia said. “You spin it a little bit with the speed of the greens and a little bit of slope, the balls were just rolling off the greens … so it was a little bit tricky. … I was able to manage it nicely toward the end.”

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