PONTE VEDRA BEACH, United States (AFP) - Germany's Martin Kaymer birdied his last four holes to complete a record-tying nine-under par 63 opening round and seize a two-shot clubhouse lead Thursday at the US PGA Players Championship.
Kaymer, who began on the 10th tee, fired the lowest nine-hole score in Players history, a seven-under 29 on the front side at TPC Sawgrass.
Kaymer's 63 matched Fred Couples in 1992, Greg Norman in 1994 and Roberto Castro last year for the lowest round in the tournament's 40-year history.
That moved Kaymer, the 2010 PGA Championship winner, two strokes clear of American Russell Henley for the lead at the $10 million event with only the last few groups on the course.
A pack in the clubhouse on 67 included reigning US Open champion Justin Rose, fellow Englishman Lee Westwood, Spaniards Sergio Garcia and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Americans Brian Stuard, Jordan Spieth, Gary Woodland and Scott Stallings.
Kaymer made short birdie putts at the par-5 11th and par-4 15th, but sizzled after the turn, starting with a 26-foot birdie putt at the first.
Kaymer reached the green at the par-5 second in two and tapped in for birdie, then added a 14-foot birdie at the fourth before closing with four birdies in a row.
The stellar final run included a 17-foot putt at the par-3 eighth and a tap-in birdie at the par-5 ninth after blasting out of a bunker just 20 inches from the cup.
Henley hits form
Henley, who missed the cut last year in his Players debut, fired a back-nine 30 that matched the low back-nine mark, with no putt longer than 16 feet.
"I knew I was playing well and felt really comfortable on the greens," Henley said. "As long as I keep feeling comfortable with the putter, I think I can putt well on these greens." Henley opened with three birdies in the first four holes but suffered his lone stumble of the day at the par-4 seventh when his tee shot found the water on his way to a double bogey.
Henley answered by opening the back nine with three birdies in a row and running off three more in a row from the 15th through 17th holes.
Using fewer drivers off tees and more fairway woods after struggling at last year's Players, Henley hit 13 of 18 greens in regulation at 11 of 14 fairways.
"Playing some of the holes a little less aggressive has helped me to stay in there and make some pars," Henley said.
Henley, 25, seeks his third PGA title, having won last year's Sony Open in Hawaii in his first start as a PGA Tour member and taken a four-way playoff to win the Honda Classic in March.
Four players in the field are able to dethrone Tiger Woods from atop the world rankings this week but after the first 18 holes none of them were in the position they needed to do so.
Aussie Adam Scott, who needs a top-16 showing, was one-over with three holes to play.
Sweden's Henrik Stenson, who must finish in the top six, was two-under with two remaining.
American Matt Kuchar, who must win to have a chance, was three-under with three to play.
American Bubba Watson, who last month won his second Masters title in three years, was two-under with three holes to play.
Rose, preparing to defend the major title he won last year at Merion next month at Pinehurst, had an "awful" warm-up session but shined on the course.
"One of those weird days in the game of golf," Rose said. "Had not much feel of anything that I was doing to be honest with you and having played quite well recently, it was a bit of an out?of?the?blue moment.
"Sometimes it lowers your expectation." Garcia, who shared the Sunday lead with Woods at the 17th tee last year only to plunk two shots into the water and take a quadruple bogey, made the island green on his first try this time and made par.
"It did cross my mind," Garcia said. "It's a new year. I was able to do much better there.
"When I'm on I definitely think I can win anywhere." Phil Mickelson soared to a 75, the lefty saying, "it's a little disappointing and frustrating... it's just not quite clicking right now."