Johnson, Simpson, Noren share early lead at Sawgrass

Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson and Alex Noren took advantage of good scoring conditions to share the early lead in the first round of The Players Championship on Thursday.

The trio started with six-under rounds of 66 at TPC Sawgrass to hold a one-shot advantage over defending champion Si Woo Kim, Jhonattan Vegas, Keith Mitchell and Rory Sabbatini.

Starting at the 10th, some 20 minutes apart, Simpson and world number one Johnson got things rolling quickly. Level par after four holes, Simpson reeled off three birdies to make the turn at three under and added a trio of further gains on his back nine with no bogeys

Johnson - playing alongside Bubba Watson and Brooks Koepka in one of the marquee groups - made an even better start, making the turn with five birdies and no blemish on his card in the so-called 'fifth major'. 

The 2016 U.S. Open champion quickly added another birdie on the par-five second hole to get to six under and stayed there with a string of pars.

Noren included a birdie on the famed 17th hole, getting down in two on the island par-three, on his card. His opening nine was only slightly less scorching than Johnson's with four birdies, three in a row to start.

The Swede ended his round by picking up a stroke at the ninth to move into a tie with Simpson and Johnson.

A handful of players from the early wave were a shot back at five under, led by Kim, who was at seven under through 15 but gave back two strokes on seven and eight.

Johnson's playing partners also were in red numbers, Watson at four under and Koepka two under.

The other stand-out early group - Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas - have ground to make up.

McIlroy posted a one-under 71, while Thomas (+1) and Spieth (+3) were struggling in most facets of their games. Emblematic of Spieth's day, he followed an eagle two on the par-four 12th with a double-bogey five on 13.

Tiger Woods, playing in the same group as Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson, was one over through three holes after dropping a shot at the third.

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