Holmes, Allenby share lead at Sawgrass

J.B. Holmes opened with a bogey-free 66 to take the early lead at the Players Championship.
AP

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — J.B. Holmes knows better than most that long bombers not only get extra attention, they tend to be labeled as one-dimensional. Robert Allenby has the reputation of a player who excels overseas and is often around the lead in the U.S., but who rarely makes enough putts to close the door on Sunday.

Both players took the first step toward shedding their reputations after they fired matching 66s to share the first-round lead at the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass on Thursday.

"I mean, I'm on Tour," Holmes said after going bogey-free and only once having to scramble for par, on the par-4 10th hole. "I'm not that bad a player. I'm pretty good with my irons. I'm putting good this year."

Holmes hit driver just five times Thursday, and said he took the club out of his bag completely at Hilton Head earlier this season.

Allenby, who revealed earlier this week he is in the process of getting a divorce from his wife, made seven birdies and one bogey. He was in the lead alone at 7-under but three-putted his second to last hole, the par-3 eighth, for a bogey.

"This is not a fluke, as we know," he said, "I can hit it, and I can put it together when I putt well."

Red numbers were plentiful, with more than half the field shooting under par on a steamy day when the temperature neared 90 degrees but did little to dry out a course softened by rain earlier in the week.

"Shooting 70 today isn't the round that you want," Phil Mickelson said after hitting 10 of 14 fairways but taking 30 putts en route to a 2-under-par start. "We came out in perfect conditions."

Playing for the first time since he shot an ugly 79 to miss the cut in Charlotte last week, Tiger Woods matched Mickelson's 70 in the afternoon.

Jason Bohn, a winner at New Orleans two weeks ago, and Lee Westwood led a group at 67 that also included Ben Crane, Luke Donald, Ryuji Imada, Ryan Moore, Kenny Perry and Heath Slocum.

It's been a season of near misses for Holmes, 28. The 2008 Ryder Cup standout tied for third at the Northern Trust, tied for second at the AT&T and finished T12 at the Honda Classic. He ranks 22nd on the 2010 money list with $1.26 million — all while admittedly hitting his driver "like crap."

"Yeah, the public always assumes that all you do is hit drivers, all I do is hit drivers," Holmes said. "You don't keep your card by hitting drivers out here all the time. So you've really got to work your way around."

His first round at the Players was decidedly devoid of drama: He hit just seven of 14 fairways, but 15 of 18 greens in regulation.

After adopting the "claw" putting grip at the suggestion of Vijay Singh last July, Allenby won twice overseas at the end of 2009 and was runner-up at the Sony Open in January. He racked up more top-10 finishes at Torrey Pines and TPC Scottsdale, and sits at 16th in earnings with $1.37 million.

That's par for the course for the Aussie veteran, who has four victories (two in 2000, two in '01) and $22 million in career earnings on Tour.

Early starters got the better end of Thursday's draw, and saw a slightly slower, softer course than those with afternoon tee times.

"I expected it to be a little soft because of the rain," Ponte Vedra Beach resident Jim Furyk said after shooting a 69. "It looked like early on after three or four holes, I looked up at the board, and there were guys 2-, 3-, 4-under par. It looked like scoring was going to be really good."

It was. Even players who were on the verge of shooting themselves out of it suddenly found themselves back in it.

After stumbling to a front-nine 39, Adam Scott made three birdies and an eagle (16) on the back to salvage a 2-under 70. John Merrick birdied five holes on his second nine to also shoot 70.

Greg Owen provided one of the day's only wipeouts when, sitting comfortably at 3-under, he hit two balls in the water and made a quadruple-bogey 7 on the island 17th hole to go tumbling off the leaderboard. He buried his club in the turf, one of the day's few images of exasperation.

Rookie Alex Prugh was 5-under and in the lead with three holes remaining when he double-bogeyed the par-4 seventh hole. He carded a 69.

Mickelson, one of the pre-tournament favorites after winning the Masters and finishing second at Quail Hollow, birdied the par-5 ninth hole to finish his round, but felt he'd let a golden opportunity pass him by.

"It could have been a great round," he said, "but I don't think it's a bad round in the sense that I was able to hang in there and have my round where I just didn't have it, [and yet it] still put me in position."

 

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