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Players Championship: Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar among leaders at Sawgrass

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    Dustin Johnson has held the world number one spot since February 2017
    The Players Championship, first-round leaderboard
    -6 W Simpson (US), D Johnson (US), A Noren (Swe), C Hadley (US), M Kuchar (US), P Cantlay (US)
    Selected others: -5 J Vegas (Col), SW Kim (Kor); -4 J Rose (Eng); -3 T Fleetwood (Eng); -2 R Fisher (Eng), I Poulter (Eng), -1 R McIlroy (NI), E M Fitzpatrick (Eng), T Woods (US), M Laird (Sco), +2 D Willett (Eng), R Knox (Sco), +3 T Hatton (Eng)Full leaderboard

    Dustin Johnson is part of a six-way tie for the lead after the opening round of the Players Championship as he looks to hang on to the world number one spot.

    Johnson carded a six-under-par 66, including five birdies before the turn after starting on the back nine.

    Fellow Americans Chesson Hadley, Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson and Patrick Cantlay, plus Sweden’s Alex Noren, are level with Johnson in the clubhouse.

    Defending champion Kim Si-woo of South Korea is a shot behind on five under.

    Justin Rose carded a four-under-par 68 to finish two strokes off the lead, with fellow Englishman Tommy Fleetwood one further back.

    Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy finished the day on one under par, while 14-time major champion Tiger Woods eagled the par-five ninth during his level-par round of 72.

    Martin Laird of Scotland also finished the opening day level, two shots ahead of compatriot Russell Knox.

    Number one ‘big deal’ for Johnson

    Johnson’s position at the top of the rankings, which he has held since February last year, is under threat from Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth and Rose.

    Johnson carded his lowest score – and first bogey-free round – at Sawgrass in 31 attempts, while closest rival and compatriot Thomas finished the day at one over par.

    Spain’s Rahm is four under, while American three-time major winner Spieth struggled to a three-over 75.

    “My expectation is the same for every tournament. I want to play well and put myself in a position to have a chance to win on Sunday,” said Johnson.

    Asked about the world ranking situation, he added: “Justin has been pretty close to me for a while.

    “Every week I know there’s a chance someone can pass me. I definitely want to stay there, but if someone passes me it’s not going to change anything, I’m still going to go back the next week and try to get it back.

    “It was a big deal to get there and it’s a big deal to stay there. I like being number one so I want to stay there.”

    Jordan Spieth’s round featured four bogeys, a double bogey and an eagle on the short par-four 12th

    ‘Not easy to keep a clean sheet’ – Rose

    Rose, who was playing alongside Fleetwood and Ian Poulter in an all-English group, was frustrated not to make more of a brilliant beginning to his round.

    The Olympic champion started on the 10th and followed a birdie on the 11th by holing out from 96 yards for an eagle on the 12th – but then mixed three bogeys with four birdies.

    “It was obviously a dream start – birdie, eagle and three-under through three – but I didn’t make much of it from that moment on,” Rose told Sky Sports.

    “I think three bogeys is probably what halted a great round, but it’s still not easy out there to keep a clean sheet.”

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