Rory still hot in round 1 at Players Championship

Before the opening round of the Players Championship, Rory Sabbatini was dubbed ‘one of the hottest golfers in the world right now’ – and it wasn’t his temper that was being referred to.

Six birdies and a bogey later, he was the leading South African in a field laden with them, his five-under-par 67 trailing the superlative 64 of Nick Watney which set the pace.

There are six other South Africans in the field, with seven majors between them, and one of them is the defending champion in this event, widely regarded as the ‘fifth major’.

Tim Clark is the defending champion, and although as defending champion, he’s entitled to have the South African flag flying in pride of place at TPC Sawgrass at Ponte Vedra, Florida, he made the noble gesture of asking for the Spanish flag to flown in its place and at half-mast in memory of Seve Ballesteros.

Then, after months out of any meaningful action with his elbow injury, went out and carded a two-over 74 to start what will probably be a quixotic title defence.

After Sabbatini, Trevor Immelman was the next best of the South Africans as his good return to form during 2011 continues: He fired a two-under-par 70 to put him in a share of 25th.

Open champion Louis Oosthuizen carded a one-under-par 71, while Ernie Els had one of his better days of late with his even-par 72.

Masters champion Charl Schwartzel marked his return to the US after his dramatic victory at Augusta with a 72 of his own, and he will be pleased to be in touch after a three-week layoff back in South Africa.

Retief Goosen was the other South African in the field and he carded a one-over-par 73.

It was a dramatic day as Tiger Woods limped out of the fray after nine pain-filled holes. He was five-over through nine, but both his playing partners remarked on how he was obviously in pain having not recovered fully from the injury sustained in the third round of the Masters.

World number two Martin Kaymer was one of those partners, and he fired a five-under-par 67 to join Sabbatini in a share of fifth, along with world number five Graeme McDowell.

Lucas Glover was in second with his 65, and the surprising veteran pair of David Toms and Mark O’Meara rolled back the years with their 66s.

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