Poulter and Laird burn it up at Sawgrass

It was agony and ecstasy for two of England’s stars at golf’s richest event today.

The ecstasy belonged to Ian Poulter, whose seven-under-par 65 set a target matched late in the day by Scot Martin Laird.

The agony was Paul Casey’s. Out for more than two months after dislocating his shoulder snowboarding on Christmas Eve, he was struggling with it again and after taking 42 to the turn withdrew on the next.

It not only ended his hopes of a first prize of well over £1 million, but was a further blow to his chances of playing in the Ryder Cup this September.

He was not alone in that. Simon Dyson pulled out with back trouble after a 76.

Poulter, runner-up to Swede Henrik Stenson three years ago, knocked two strokes off his previous best score on the course and described it as one of the top 10 rounds of his career.

He and Laird, who kept a bogey off his card, were a stroke ahead of American Blake Adams, but Tiger Woods was nine strokes back and in danger of a second successive missed cut – something he has never suffered before.

Woods said: “Any kind of momentum that I would build I would shoot myself in the foot on the very next hole.

“For some reason it’s just been one of those weird deals. Out here (on tour) you have to take care of the par fives and I haven’t done a very good job of it lately.

“It was frustrating in the sense that my good shots ended up in bad spots and obviously my bad shots ended up in worse spots.

“In the last few months I’ve put together some good rounds and won a couple tournaments, so it’s there – I just need to continue doing it.”

It was a good morning for Pádraig Harrington, who was round in 69, with birdies at the second, third, ninth, 13th and 16th, offset by bogeys at the sixth and eighth.

But Rory McIlroy struggled towards the end of his round with double bogey at the 17th for level par.

Of the others vieing for the number one slot, Luke Donald also was round in 72, while Lee Westwood was one better on 71.

Meanwhile, the third Irishman in the field, Graeme McDowell, left himself with a lot of work to do after a 74.

* Colm Moriarty had good cause to be pleased in posting four under par 68 on day one of the Madeira Islands Open. It was the Glasson Resort attached Moriarty’s first competitive round all season and he ended the day sharing seventh, four behind Spain’s Alvaro Velasco who carded a 64.

“I played lovely and thought it’s a tricky course, you could not have got a nicer morning than this morning,” he said.

“I drove the ball well with this new Callaway Razr FT driver, and I also wedged and putted well making seven birdies. But after not having played tournament golf all year I didn’t know what to expect so it’s really pleasing to start so well.”

Newcastle’s Simon Thornton was the very first to tee off but is staring at the weekend off after a 76 that included an 11th hole eagle.

And Galway’s Clara Ford, the Santa de Serra Head Pro, struggled in carding a 76.

* Former Shamrock Rovers footballer Stephen Grant defied high winds on the first day of the Allianz Open Côtes d’Armor Bretagne to claim a share of the lead on three under par.

Grant carded a round of 67 to finish the opening day of the €160,000 Challenge Tour event tied with the English duo of Chris Hanson and Eddie Pepperell.

Grant picked up five birdies in his round of 67, with a double bogey at the 14th hole – where he lost his ball after a hook from the tee – the only blemish in an otherwise impressive display.

His fellow Irishman Brendan McCarroll also enjoyed a solid start to the tournament, carding a level par round of 70 which included three birdies.

But David Higgins, Niall Kearney (both 73) and Cian McNamara (74) fared less well, and will have to improve on the second day to make the 65-man cut.


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