DJ, five others lead Players at 66

All Dustin Johnson heard the last few days is that his world No. 1 ranking is in jeopardy this week, and it brought out the best in his game.

DJ carded a bogey-free 6-under-par 66, which included a 34-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole, and is tied for the lead with five others after round one of the 45th Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

“I did everything pretty well today,” said Johnson, whose best finish in the so-called Fifth Major is a tie for 12th last year. “I drove the ball nicely, putted well and hit some quality iron shots, but I could have been a little sharper with my irons. Today was a good day for scoring, the greens are in great shape and rolling well. But with the weather being good, it’s going to get firmer and tougher as we go along because it’s warm.

“I definitely want to keep (the No. 1 ranking), but there are three days left and I can’t think too much about that. There are a lot of really good players right up there who want it, so to keep it I’m going to have to play well.”

Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA collected seven birdies on his first 12 holes and held the lead until making a bogey finishing at No. 9 and also is tied for the top at 66 with Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson, Alex Noren of Sweden and Chesson Hadley.

Kuchar, Cantlay, Hadley and others were 7-under before falling back.

“The wind was down a little and that helped on the greens, but they were still fast,” said Simpson, who won the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. “You have to hit good shots and make putts. You’ve got to be smart. There are going to be birdie opportunities every day, especially on the par-5s, but you can get into trouble and make big numbers if you get too aggressive.

“This is the strongest field all year, with all 50 of the top players in the world in the field most of the time. It’s our tournament and it would be great to have a chance to win and make history.”

Defending champion Si Woo Kim of South Korea, the youngest player to win the Players at 21, also held the lead for a while before two late bogeys in a 67 and is tied for seventh with 51-year-old Steve Stricker, Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela, Rory Sabbatini of South Africa, Andrew Landry and Keith Mitchell, the last player to get into the field when Paul Casey of England withdrew because of a back injury.

Third-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain and fifth-ranked Justin Rose of England posted 68s and are in a tie for 13th that includes 2008 Players winner Sergio Garcia of Spain, who was in the lead before hitting his tee ball into the water on the famed 17th hole with its island green and finishing double bogey-bogey.

Seventh-ranked Jason Day of Australia, the 2016 Players champ, is tied for 27th at 69, eighth-ranked Rory McIlroy shot 71 and is tied for 55th, while 10th-ranked Patrick Reed wound up at 72 and is in a tie for 69th that includes two-time Players champion Tiger Woods, who holed an 18-foot eagle putt from the fringe at No. 9.

Second-ranked Justin Thomas is tied for 86th after 73, sixth-ranked Rickie Fowler of Murrieta, who won the Players in 2015, is tied for 95th at 74, fourth-ranked Jordan Spieth totaled 74 and is tied for 108th, while ninth-ranked Hideki Matsuyama of Japan struggled to a 79 and is in a tie for 139th that includes 2007 Players champion Phil Mickelson.

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