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Fleetwood, Hoge share lead at wind-battered Players

MIAMI (AFP) – Fierce winds and cold temperatures created brutal conditions in Saturday’s darkness-halted second round of the Players Championship, with England’s Tommy Fleetwood and American Tom Hoge sharing the lead.

Elite golfers battled blustery breezes with 40 miles per hour gusts all day and were already looking at a Monday finish after two days of torrential rain wreaked havoc at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

“When I got to 17 and 18, you couldn’t hardly stand up much less hit a golf shot,” American Kevin Kisner said after shooting a two-over 74. “It’s brutal. It’s pure luck and somewhat loss of integrity of the tournament.”

The famed par-three 17th island green was buffeted by north winds and averaged 3.79 strokes, the most since 1984.

“It was blowing so hard,” two-time major winner Dustin Johnson said after a 73.

Fleetwood and Hoge shared the 18-hole lead on six-under par 66 after the first round was concluded on Saturday, and Fleetwood managed to begin his second round before darkness struck after his tee shot at the fourth hole.

Tommy Fleetwood hits from the first fairway. PHOTO: AP

Fleetwood reached the green in two at the par-five second hole, then two-putted for birdie from 29 feet to seize the lead alone at seven-under, only to find the rough at the par-three third and miss a 13-foot par putt to make bogey.

That left the Englishman level again with Hoge, who was among 24 players whose second round start was postponed to Sunday as organisers prepared for a Monday finish.

India’s Anirban Lahiri, Chile’s Joaquin Niemann and American Keith Mitchell shared second on five-under with 18 holes to finish yesterday.

Defending champion Justin Thomas and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson delivered the only bogey-free second rounds on Saturday, Thomas shooting 69 and Watson 68 despite the whipping winds that kept them out for six hours.

“That was one of the best rounds I’ve played. It really was,” Thomas said. “It was insane. It was one of those rounds that’s fun when you’re at home but not so much fun when you have to play.”

Watson said the key was “be committed to your shots, even if they go wild. I hit some wayward shots but I made the putts. That’s what kept the round going”.

Keegan Bradley fired a 71 and called it, “one of my best rounds of my life”.

Of 17 and 18, he said: “I don’t know if I’ve ever played two holes as hard as that.”

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy fired his second 73 of the week and was just happy to keep his ball dry off the last two tee shots.

“It’s brutal out there,” McIlroy said. “Hitting those tee shots on 17 and 18 and just keeping them dry and walking forward is nice.”

Four-time major champion Brooks Koepka matched his highest US PGA round with an 81 to set up a missed cut.

“There’s nothing you can do,” he said. “It was just extremely hard.”