Players Championship: Rory McIlroy off to a flyer at Sawgrass with opening 66

Last Updated: 10/05/13 3:49pm

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Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell all enjoyed strong starts to their Players Championship first round at TPC Sawgrass.

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Rory McIlroy ended a lousy run at TPC Sawgrass with a fine first round 66 to put him second behind Roberto Castro, who shot a course record to lead the Players Championship.

McIlroy went in to his seventh round at the legendary course with a scoring average of two-over par 74, and three missed cuts, but he forgot all of his previous troubles with a six-under 66 that put him three back of first round leader Roberto Castro.

Zach Johnson sits alongside McIlroy in a tied for second on six-under ahead of a bunch of six just one shot further back on five-under.

First round leaderboard

US unless stated

-9 R Castro
-6 Z Johnson
-6 R McIlroy (NI)
-6 T Woods
-5 C Wittenburg
-5 H Mahan

Click Here for collated scores.

One of those is Tiger Woods, who came agonisingly close to his first ever bogey-free round at the event, as he only dropped a shot on the 18th hole when having to settle for his 67.

McIlroy started strongly with a birdie at the par-five 11th and by the time he reached the turn McIlroy was five-under, including one of few birdies at the 17th, where he found the infamous island green and converted from seven feet.

Only one more birdie would follow on his back-nine, but that didn't affect McIlroy's positive outlook after the round, as he said: "It's my best score around this course by a long way so I'm very happy. I kept my ball in play for the most part and didn't make any stupid mistakes.

"I made a couple of good par saves, but apart from that I was giving myself a lot of chances for birdie. If I can continue doing that over the next three days I should be there or thereabouts going into Sunday.

"I feel good with my game. I wasn't hitting the ball great on the range but once I got out onto the course I felt a lot more comfortable. I said on Wednesday you have to find the balance between being conservative but also aggressive as well.

"I adopted quite a conservative strategy off the tee this week because I feel my iron play has been so good. Even if I leave myself a bit further back I am still giving myself good chances for birdies."

But the youngster was upstaged by world No 267 Castro, who matched the course record held by Fred Couples and Greg Norman with a superb round of 63.

The American, who is yet to finish in the top 10 on the PGA Tour this season, peppered the flags throughout with five birdies on his front nine and two more to go with an eagle on the way home.

"It was a lot of fun," Castro said. "First time around here I was pretty nervous on the 17th, but birdied 17 and 18 which got things rolling into the front nine.

"Something solid was what I was hoping for. I'm usually really good at getting myself way out of it and having to dig myself out of a hole."

Casey Wittenberg, Hunter Mahan, Ryan Palmer, Steve Stricker and US Open champion Webb Simpson are the other men sat on five-under.

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