Mixed fortunes for Rory McIlroy on day one at TPC Sawgrass

Tiger Woods acknowledges the crowd after finishing his round at the Players Championship

Lee then made it a three-way tie for second with an unbelievable recovery from a double-bogey seven at the 11th, the New Zealander making four birdies and an eagle over the last seven holes to match Schwartzel's 66.

However, with a five-shot lead Simpson does surpass Day (four strokes) for the largest 36-hole lead in Players history. After the ban went into effect at the start of 2016, Simpson spent the entire year ranked no higher than 61st, and he was ranked as low as 89th in the world as recently as the start of 2017.

But McIlroy littered his card with four bogeys and needed to par the last two holes to survive, and his hopes were scuppered when his tee shot to 17 pitched on the front bank and rolled back into the water which led to a double-bogey.

Three players - South African Charl Schwartzel (66), Patrick Cantlay (68) and New Zealand's Danny Lee (69) - share second place at a distant 10-under par. "It's a bummer, but I wanted to play 18 pretty solid, just to end the day well, and I think I did that".

In 15 starts in the Players Championship, Howell III has missed nine cuts, never finished better than T-32 and has posted just three rounds in the 60s.

Webb Simpson's bid for a 59 ended agonisingly with a ball in the water guarding the famed island green at 17 on Friday, but his record-equalling 63 gave him a five-shot lead.

"I don't think it was a mistake - just the wrong club", Simpson added about his tee shot on 17.

The most unlikely birdie with the one from behind the 15th green, and another up-and-down from left the of the green on the par-5 16th.

Lee sits in a tie for second at the Players Championship - billed as golf's unofficial fifth major - after a superb six-under second round of 66.

The 2012 US Open champion drained three from close to 20 feet on 12, 13 and 14 before holing out from off the green at the next, his ball hitting the cup at pace and dropping.

"So I'm just looking forward to getting some good dinner and some rest and coming out and enjoying it tomorrow". But I'm very pleased with the way I've played so far.

Even world number one Dustin Johnson (66,71) is eight behind, with Ian Poulter ten adrift despite good rounds of 70,69.

Day, the 2016 victor, fired a bogey-free round of five-under-par 67 to race out to eight under and sits just two shots back from the clubhouse lead. The list of co-favorites to win the 2018 tournament entering Thursday read like late-season FedExCup standings: Jason Day (-3), Rory McIlroy (-1), Justin Thomas (+1) and Jordan Spieth (+3).

Bogey-free round: Jason Day is two shots back.

Three of the world's top-10 in Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Hideki Matsuyama, along with five-time major victor Phil Mickelson, found themselves with the weekend off after missing the cut in the Players Championship on Friday.

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