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Harrington gets into the groove at Sawgrass

Padraig Harrington is four shots off the early lead, held by Ian Poulter and Martin Laird, at the Players Championship.

Image: David J. Phillip/AP/Press Association Images

Mark Long, AP

NOTHING SHOULD COME as a surprise at The Players Championship.

The tournament in which anything can and usually does happen had its share of strange and surreal in the first round on Thursday.

Ian Poulter and Martin Laird were atop the leaderboard at seven-under 65. Four players withdrew because of injuries and high scores. Sunghoon Kang opened with a quadruple-bogey nine, followed with eagle-par-birdie and lost four shots over the last four holes. Jerry Kelly made four birdies and shot 82.

And first alternate Brian Harman had to play as a single after a bizarre situation that may have been a first for the PGA Tour.

There was one bit of normalcy: Tiger Woods again failed to break 70 in the opening round. Woods has never broken 70 in his 15 years at the Players. He extended that streak with a sloppy 74 that left him in serious danger of missing the cut for the second straight week. He has only missed eight cuts in his career.

Padraig Harrington continued up the form he showed in the Masters at Augusta last month, sinking five birdies on his way to a round of three-under par. World number one Rory McIlroy could only manage a level-par round after a double-bogey five at the iconic par-three 17th, and Graeme McDowell finished on two-over.

Focus

The conditions were ideal for scoring for those hitting it straight and making putts.

Poulter ran off four consecutive birdies around the turn and birdied the par fives, a key for this golf course. Laird was the only player without a bogey on his card. He made birdie on his final hole to catch Poulter, although his focus was more on his scorecard than the leaderboard.

“I knew I hadn’t made a five all day, and that was kind of a little goal I had,” Laird said. “Nothing to do with getting to seven-under. It was, ‘I don’t want to make a five all day.’”

They were a shot ahead of Blake Adams, with Ben Crane and Kevin Na another shot behind. The 11 players at 68 included Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar, Ben Curtis and FedEx champion Bill Haas. There were 27 players who shot in the 60s, and more than half the field broke par.

Woods was not among them. ”I just didn’t score,” he said.

It was frustrating in the sense that my good shots ended up in bad spots, and obviously, my bad shots ended up in worse spots.

Mix-up

Phil Mickelson had a 71 in his first round after being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Lee Westwood had a 71, irritated only because of seven birdies on his card.

They should have a better run at the Stadium Course with morning tee times Friday.

Sawgrass claimed its share of victims Thursday, early and late.

The star group of the morning was Woods, Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan. None of them was particularly impressive. Fowler, the winner Sunday at Quail Hollow, failed to save par when missing greens that killed his momentum and shot 72, while Mahan hit two shots into the water on his way to a 74.

Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera played a solid round — at least for 16 holes. He went over the 11th green and into the water, leading to a double bogey. And then he reached the island-green 17th, which proved to his undoing. His first shot went into the water. Cabrera went to the drop area and saw two more balls sink to the bottom of the murky pond for a nine. He played those two holes in eight-over and shot 78. He withdrew for “personal reasons.”

Simon Dyson withdrew with a bad back after a 76. Hunter Haas only made it through three holes (he already was four-over par) when he stopped with a bad back. Paul Casey withdrew with a shoulder injury after a 42 on the front nine.

Harman got in after DA Points abruptly withdrew on the first tee because of back spasms. The timing was so odd that it almost prevented Harmon from getting in the field.

Typically, the alternate would not get in if he were not around. But this was far from typical.

Points, whose back was bothering him on the range, was announced on the tee when he took a few practice swings and realized he couldn’t make it. Harman, who had been on the practice range all morning, said he called officials and told them he would be in the clubhouse. He was playing ping pong with his caddie when they called.

By then, it was too late.

Carl Pettersson had already teed off. Points told the starter he couldn’t go, and Robert Garrigus was announced and hit the next shot.

“It happened very quickly,” rules official Mark Russell said. “We didn’t have time to react. But once we were able to sit down and get our heads around this, figure out exactly what the situation is, we decided Brian Harman had done everything we asked him to do.”

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