May 7, 2009

Crane unlikely leader at Players

Ben Crane birdied half the holes on the golf course Thursday and shot a 7-under 65 to become the unlikely first-round leader at the Players Championship.

The second of Crane's two PGA Tour victories came four years ago. He did not earn an invitation to this year's Masters and he has missed the cut in three of his last four events.

Nevertheless, he opened his round with two birdies at the TPC-Sawgrass Stadium Course and equaled his second-lowest 18-hole score of the year.

This is definitely one of the better putting rounds of my career, said Crane, who needed only 22 putts. All of a sudden some putts start going in and it gives you a little confidence. It was one of those special days playing golf.

Crane easily stole the spotlight from Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who had been expected to stage a duel this week for the top spot in the world rankings. A victory by Mickelson and a finish of fourth or worse by Woods would move Mickelson into the No. 1 position.

Mickelson, however, shot a 1-over 73 on a day of low scoring to tie for 79th and Woods settled for a 71 to share 38th place.

I hit the ball well today, I really did, Woods said. It's just unfortunate I didn't capitalize on my opportunities. I had quite a few of them.

Woods has not finished in the top 10 at this event since he won it in 2001.

John Mallinger, Richard S. Johnson and Alex Cejka were tied for second at 66 while the group at 67 included former major championship winners Retief Goosen and David Toms.

Defending champion Sergio Garcia had a 71.