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Kaymer takes 2-shot lead

Ponte Vedra Beach: Martin Kaymer birdied his last four holes to equal the tournament record and seize a two-shot lead in Thursday’s opening round of the Players Championship as several other big names lined up in pursuit.

On an ideal day for low scoring at the TPC Sawgrass where the par-72 Stadium Course has been softened by recent rain, Germany’s Kaymer raced home in a sizzling seven-under-par 29 to complete a nine-under 63.

His back nine, holes one to nine, set a new low for the tournament while his 63 matched the record scores previously posted at the Players Championship by Fred Couples (1992), Greg Norman (1994) and Roberto Castro (2013).

“I didn’t make many mistakes today, which was nice,” Kaymer told reporters after a flawless nine-birdie display in the PGA Tour’s flagship event which is widely regarded as the unofficial fifth Major.

“I missed only one fairway, which was on 16. So overall my ball-striking was very good. Fortunately, I could take advantage of some putts on my back nine, on the front, on the golf course. It was just a very, very good round of golf.”

Kaymer sank a 16-footer at the par-three eighth, then got up and down from a greenside bunker at the par-five ninth to end the day two strokes in front of American Russell Henley, who had set the clubhouse lead with a sparkling 65 in the morning round.

South Korea’s Bae Sang-moon opened with a 66 while US Open champion Justin Rose, England’s former world No. 1 Lee Westwood and 2008 Players champion Sergio Garcia of Spain were among a large group on 67.

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy got to five-under after 11 holes on a hot and sunny morning but then struggled coming home on the way to an opening 70.

“I played well pretty much the whole way around, I just let a couple of shots get away from me at the end,” McIlroy said. “So I’ll come out tomorrow and try and attack again, because I feel like you can go low on this golf course this week. It’s soft, the greens are receptive.”