WATCH: Sergio Garcia marks return to action with spectacular hole-in-one

Masters champion Sergio Garcia marked his return to action in spectacular fashion with a hole-in-one in the first round of the Players Championship.

Making his first start since claiming a maiden major title at Augusta National, Garcia had been four over par for his first six holes at Sawgrass after four-putting the fifth, the same hole he six-putted in the third round last year.

However, the 37-year-old started the back nine with a birdie on the 10th and followed a bogey on the 15th with a birdie on the 16th, before producing a moment of magic on the 17th.

Garcia's tee shot on the treacherous par three pitched short of the flag and bounced twice before spinning back into the cup for the eighth ace on the hole in tournament history.

In stark contrast, playing partner Adam Scott found water on the 17th and 18th to card consecutive double bogeys and slump from six under to two under alongside the likes of defending champion Jason Day, Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler.

Garcia signed for a 73 which left him six shots off the pace set by American William McGirt and Canada's Mackenzie Hughes, with Spain's Jon Rahm and Sweden's Alex Noren a shot further back with JB Holmes and Chez Reavie.

"I played 16 nicely and I obviously hit a really, really good shot (on 17) but you're looking at it and you don't know what to tell the ball," Garcia told Sky Sports.

"You don't know whether to say 'be good', 'go' or 'sit' because it's such a tricky hole, but it was a pretty good yardage for me to hit a solid 52-degree (wedge) and fortunately it worked out perfect for me and went in."

Garcia admitted he struggled to get back into competitive mode early in the round, adding: "I thought it was going to be easier than it was.

"There have been so many things going on and maybe I would have loved to play something before this week to come here a little more relaxed. It's been a busy week and at the beginning I wasn't really in the tournament.

"When I woke up I was four over after six so I'm happy I was able to get back a little bit and salvage a decent round and I need a good one tomorrow to get back in the tournament."

Rory McIlroy had to birdie two of his last three holes to match Garcia's 73, the four-time major winner having double-bogeyed the 10th and 14th in his first tournament since getting married and signing a multi-million pound equipment deal with TaylorMade.

World number three Day had earlier shrugged off a poor finish to his round as he targeted an achievement which proved beyond the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Jack Nicklaus.

Since the inception of the Players Championship in 1974 no player has successfully defended the title, with only six managing to win the prestigious event more than once.

Day's prospects of creating history looked bright when he played his first 11 holes in five under par, but the 29-year-old Australian bogeyed three of his last four holes and had to settle for an opening 70.

He told Sky Sports: "It would be nice to be the first in history (to win back-to-back) but it's day one, it's going to be hot tomorrow and play tough the next three days, so I just have to slowly inch my way up the leader board and hopefully be in there Sunday."

Day's victory at Sawgrass 12 months ago was his seventh in 17 events, but he has recorded just one top-10 finish in 2017, although his form has been badly affected by his mother's battle with lung cancer.

The former US PGA champion broke down in tears after withdrawing from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in March, just six holes into his opening match.

Two days later his mother Dening successfully underwent surgery to remove a "three-to-four-centimetre" mass in her lungs and Day returned to action in the Masters, finishing in a tie for 22nd at Augusta National.

"I'm just trying to gain some confidence, get back to working on the right things, doing the right things off the course that will hopefully produce the results on the course," Day added.

"The desire is starting to come back to try to reach the top again. A few distractions earlier this year kind of derailed that a little bit which is understandable, I had to be there with my mum, and now I'm ready to focus on my golf."

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