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Fleetwood, Hoge share early lead at storm-delayed Players

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida (AP) – Tommy Fleetwood needed a round like this. He has gone more than two years without winning, falling so far down the world ranking that he narrowly stayed in the top 50 at the cutoff to qualify for The Players Championship.

Amid two delays, one timely par save and plenty of good shots along the way, Fleetwood opened with a 6-under 66 to share the lead – for now – with Pebble Beach winner Tom Hoge.

And now he waits.

The PGA Tour’s premier event with a USD20 million purse got off to a stop-and-go start because of storms on Thursday and a dire forecast for yesterday. Only 66 players finished the opening round. Twelve didn’t even hit their first tee shots.

“I’ve got a full round in today. I don’t know when I’ll play next, but I’m happy. I’m done,” Fleetwood said. “I’ve had a really good day. I can sit on that. I can feel happy with my work and go from there.”

The PGA Tour enjoyed ideal weather with no delays for nine weeks in four states across five time zones to start the year. And for the richest event in golf, with the strongest and deepest field of the year, it barely got started.

More than an inch of overnight rain delayed the start by an hour. Storms in the area resulted in another delay of more than four hours.

Jon Rahm finally got his short game and putting to behave, and it carried him to a 69.

Particularly pleasing was his birdie-par-birdie finish. Someone asked if he could take that momentum into tomorrow.

“First of all, I don’t even know if I’m going to play tomorrow,” he said.

Fleetwood, a Ryder Cup star in Paris in 2018 whose last victory was in South Africa toward the end of 2019, returned from the long delay to make a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-5 second hole for his third birdie in a row.

Hoge had an eagle on the par-5 second hole, his 11th of the round, and shot 31 on the front nine to join him in the clubhouse at 66.

Keith Mitchell was poised to join the until his approach to the 18th was right of the flag and landed on the slope of gnarly rough in the mounds, and he failed to save par.

Tommy Fleetwood, of England, tips his cap to the crowd after finishing the 9th hole during the first round of play in The Players Championship golf tournament on March 10 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. PHOTO: AP

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