Crane putts himself top
American shoots a seven-under 65 to lead by one at Sawgrass TPC
Last Updated: 08/05/09 8:12am
Crane: Magnificent on the greens
Ben Crane's superb day on the green at the Sawgrass TPC has taken him into a first-round lead at the $9.5 million Players Championship.
The American carded a seven-under-par 65 after taking just 22 putts for the round to head compatriot John Mallinger, German Alex Cejka and Swede Richard Johnson by one stroke.
Jeev Milkha Singh leads the Asian challenge following a four-under 68, while Tiger Woods and defending champion Sergio Garcia finished the day equal 38th on one-under 71.
But it was two-time PGA Tour winner Crane who stole the show with six birdies in eight holes mid-round, running up nine birdies altogether.
"This is definitely one of the best putting rounds of my career," Crane said afterwards. "I was able to put the ball in the right spots, give myself some opportunities and then all of a sudden some putts start going in and give you a little confidence."
Cejka, who has been battling injury, made a poor start with a bogey at his second hole, but it was smooth sailing thereafter as he added seven birdies in a round that saw him hit every fairway and all but one green in regulation.
"I really wasn't playing that aggressive today," he said. "Overall I played pretty solid and it's nice to see my name up there.
"In Masters week I woke up and had a numb arm. The last couple of weeks it was really, really bad and last week I had to get an epidural shot.
"The numbness is gone for most of it, but not 100 per cent. The nerve healing is not so easy.
"I had surgery at the end of last year and maybe started too early to come back and hit balls. They told me to take eight months off but I was out there four weeks later hitting balls."
Ian Poulter's good form in the United States continued, meanwhile, as he moved two shots off the first round lead following a tie for fifth place at last week's Quail Hollow Championship.
The Englishman carded a five-under-par 67 at the Players Stadium Course and is part of an eight-man group in a tie for fifth place alongside South Africa's Retief Goosen, Colombia's Camilo Villegas and Americans Brad Adamonis, Scott Verplank, David Toms, Bubba Watson and Jonathan Byrd.
Justin Rose, Paul Casey and Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark shot two-under-par 70s, while Rory McIlroy suffered a baptism of fire over the closing holes having birdied the par-five 16th to go to two under.
The 20-year-old shipped a triple bogey at the par-three 17th island hole and then bogeyed the 18th to finish at two over.
Ireland's Padraig Harrington carded a level-par 72, one clear of world number two Phil Mickelson.