MIAMI • It was hardly a shock to hear Rory McIlroy endorse the chances of Tommy Fleetwood winning in the United States before long. Singing the Englishman's praises has become an understandable theme.
The Players Championship has not been kind to British players - Scot Sandy Lyle is the only one to have won it in 1987 - but Fleetwood is clearly in the mood to break the mould.
To start what is often referred to as the fifth Major, he fired a bogey-free 65, which included a closing 30 to catapult him to the top of the leaderboard alongside Keegan Bradley at TPC Sawgrass in Florida on Thursday.
South Korean An Byeong-hun and American Brian Harman are one stroke back.
Tiger Woods was joint-35th with an entertaining 70 that included six birdies and four bogeys.
"He is one of the best players in the world and he's had his chances already," said McIlroy of Fleetwood, who was two in front of him. "So, yes, I think it's only a matter of time for sure."
Six days after sharing the halfway lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Fleetwood and Bradley renewed acquaintance atop the leaderboard.
Fleetwood, who started on the 10th hole, piled up six birdies on the more difficult front nine. The American matched the score with an eagle, six birdies and a bogey in the afternoon.
Fleetwood did not take advantage of still conditions early, instead making his move after the wind had started to make its presence felt.
"The wind picked up and there were some tough holes there," he said. "But I drove it so well I was always in a good position."
The world No. 13 has won four times on the European Tour but is still seeking his breakthrough on the US Tour. He came close at the US Open last year, when he finished a stroke behind champion Brooks Koepka after a closing 63.
"Expectation's a tricky thing. It's clearly the next step for me to win over here, but winning's not easy and I've just got to keep plodding away," he said.
Most of the big names started smoothly, but world No. 2 Justin Rose was a notable exception.
His 74 included a triple-bogey at his 10th hole, the par-four first, where he took five shots to hole out from a greenside bunker.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS