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McDowell shines brightest on day one at Players Championship as McIlroy produces big finish

Shane Lowry was also in action in Florida.

Rory McIlroy.
Rory McIlroy.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

GRAEME MCDOWELL ENJOYED an impressive opening day Stateside at The Players Championship, while defending champion Rory McIlroy produced a big finish to round one. 

McIlroy birdied his final three holes to post a level-par 72 after a slow start from the world number one in Florida.

And Portrush native McDowell carded a promising four-under par first-round at TPC Sawgrass, and now sits inside the top 10.

After a frustrating start, the 2010 US Open champion steadied the ship and then produced a stunning performance on the back nine. Five birdies — three in-a-row from the 10th to the 12th, and back-to-back on 16 and 17 — meant McDowell posted 68.

It sees him in a great position heading into the second round, and in a share for seventh.

“It was just a difficult morning really, from a focus point of view, and difficult to get your head in the moment in the game with all the question marks surrounding everything that’s going on,” the 40-year-old Sky Sports.

“It’s nice to have a plan in place now I suppose and going forward at least we all know where we stand for the next 24 hours or so anyway,” he added, referring to the coronavirus pandemic and the absence of spectators tomorrow.

“It’s obviously such a dynamic situation where someone contracts [coronavirus] in the locker room and things change right away.

“So it’s a sad situation, but it’s important that sport and certainly professional sport do their best job to realise that what we’re doing is insignificant compared to what’s happening out there.

“Obviously, anything we can do to help contain this thing is really important that we do so. There’s been a lot of time and a lot of thought gone into this and thankfully there’s some pretty smart people out there hopefully making some good decisions.”

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While McIlroy is down the leaderboard in 85th, Shane Lowry — who was also among the late starters — is further back on 73 after just closing his round.

Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama set a scintillating pace on day one as he signed for a remarkable nine-under 63. He sits atop the leaderboard, with Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Harris English and Si-Woo Kim all two shots behind in second.

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Emma Duffy

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