Dustin Johnson got off to a strong start but still has work to do to hang on to his world number one ranking as six players shared the lead Thursday at The Players Championship.
Johnson headlined the leading pack on six-under par 66 — his lowest opening round PGA Tour score in 13 months.
Joining Johnson atop the leaderboard at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, were fellow US Open winner Webb Simpson, Chesson Hadley, Matt Kuchar, Patrick Cantlay and in-form Swede Alex Noren.
Johnson, who has been world number one for 64 weeks, is under siege by those ranked from second through fifth, and he answered the challenge with a bogey-free round.
“I definitely want to keep the number one title, but I still have three more days of golf, and I’m going to have to play really well if I want to keep the number one spot,” the 33-year-old said.
Kuchar, fueled by a birdie-eagle-birdie run at the 10th, 11th and 12th, moved to seven-under with birdies at 15 and 16, but a bogey at the last dropped him into the leading group.
A further six players, including defending champion Kim Si-woo of South Korea and were a stroke back on 67.
Kim, the youngest winner of the Players, matched the lowest opening round by a defending champion established by Jack Nicklaus in 1977.
“I liked my score in the first round, but I can hit it better,” Kim said.
“I’m fine, good,” he said, but added he wasn’t yet thinking about a repeat title. “If I was to win again, I feel like it would be dreaming, as that’s too hard. This is just the first round. I’m going to keep working hard.”
© Agence France-Presse (Additional edits from Richard Barrett)