Kirk takes early lead at Players as DeChambeau pulls closer

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Chris Kirk birdied all the par 5s, holed out for eagle from the fairway and set the target Friday at The Players Championship with a 7-under 65.

Bryson DeChambeau, coming off a win at Bay Hill, got his bad stuff out of the way early and was right behind.

Kirk finished with back-to-back birdies on another gorgeous day at the TPC Sawgrass and posted at 7-under 135, one shot ahead of DeChambeau, Brian Harman, Charley Hoffman and Denny McCarthy, who had a hole-in-one in his round of 69.

Sergio Garcia, who opened with a 7-under 65 for a three-shot lead, played in the afternoon.

Kirk was among those who had to return Friday morning to finish the opening round. He made three pars for a 72. He was even par through five holes in the second round. And then everything changed, and he doesn’t know why.

“I felt like I was still treading water. I wish I had a better answer, but the ball started going in,” Kirk said. “I chipped one in on 15, had a nice long two-putt on 16, hit it to a foot on 17 and I felt like I was off to races.”

After his bogey on the 14th, he played the next six holes in 6 under, including his wedge from 147 yards on the first hole that dropped for eagle.

DeChambeau stayed on the range until darkness, as he often does, after opening with a 69. He felt better going onto the Stadium Course, but only until he unleashed his first drive of the day on No. 10.

It sailed some 30 yards right into the trees on the pine straw. He had a clean lie and a clean shot, just not the right distance. It went long, and he muffed his first pitch from thick rough and wound up with a double bogey.

He settled down after that, including a wedge to 4 feet on the island-green 17th, making five birdies against no bogeys the rest of the way to head into the weekend with a shot at back-to-back wins.

“I’m happy with the fact that I’ve still been able to keep myself in it and score well,” DeChambeau said. “I’ve been pretty lucky, for the most part. I don’t think that’ll happen this weekend. I’ve got to make sure that my game is good off the tee, so I don’t have those issues occurring and I don’t have to rely on luck for the most part. I have to get it in the fairway.”

The luck he mentioned was getting reasonable lies when he missed the fairway — he has hit only 12 of the 28 fairways through two rounds.

And then he was off to the range.

“I’m a perfectionist, and I’ll continue to be so until the day I die and until the day I stop playing this game,” DeChambeau said. “That’s just the way I am.”

Sawgrass was a little tamer in the second round. One day after there were 22 scores of triple bogey or higher, there were only four. There were 35 balls in the water on the 17th, and about one-third that many midway through the second round.

Jordan Spieth made a double bogey from the 14th fairway, noteworthy only because it was his first double bogey or worse since the 16th hole of the opening round at the Masters in November, a streak of 411 holes, the longest of his career.

Jon Rahm birdied two of his last three holes for a 68 and was three shots behind, while Dustin Johnson wasted a strong start and had to settle for 70 that left him six shots behind.

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