Jim Furyk making most of surprise visit to The Players Championship

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Jim Furyk played his best round at The Players Championship the one year he wasn’t even expecting to be here.

Five days after he found out he was part of the strongest field in golf, Furyk went bogey-free Friday for an 8-under-par 64, his lowest score in 80 rounds that span 25 years at the TPC Sawgrass. It gave him a one-shot lead over Kevin Kisner (68) and Jason Day (66) among the early starters.


Tiger Woods also did something new in his 18th appearance on the Stadium Players Course. He hit two balls into the water on the island-green 17th, leading to a quadruple bogey that ruined an otherwise good round. It was his only hole over par in a round of 71 that left Woods at least six shots behind.

Tommy Fleetwood played in the afternoon and opened birdie-eagle-birdie as he approached the turn.


Either way, Furyk figured to be a main contender going into the weekend of a marquee event in which he has never seriously threatened. He wasn’t eligible for The Players after putting in two years as Ryder Cup captain — he was No. 37 in the world when he was appointed and No. 231 the week after Europe won the Ryder Cup.


But his 67 in the final round of the Honda Classic gave him a tie for ninth and moved him high enough in the FedEx Cup to be among the last ones in The Players.


“I thought this was an off week,” Furyk said. “It’s a nice gift, an opportunity.”


He sure made the most of it on a course that has proved to be vexing over the years, for Furyk and so many others.


Furyk ran off three straight birdies early on the back nine, had a pair of par saves from 5 feet on the 14th and 18th holes and had what appeared to be a good break on the par-3 17th under the new Rules of Golf. He is among those who leave the pin in for putts on the green, and Furyk hammered his 40-foot birdie attempt. It hit the pin and bounced slightly back, leaving him a tap-in par.


Furyk suspects the ball would have gone 8 feet by without hitting the pin, unless it had hit the back of cup just right.


Par is never a bad score — just ask Woods — on the 17th, and it contributed to his bogey-free round. Furyk’s previous best score was a 65 in the opening round in 2006.


“There’s no bones about it, you still have to hit the shots around here,” Furyk said. “You’re not going to fudge your way around this golf course for very long. There’s a lot of hard edges and hard lines and a very small window between what turns out really well at times and what ends up being a double bogey at times.”


Kisner was right with him until running into bunker problems on the par-5 16th that turned a chance at birdie into a bogey, though he wound up with another 68. Kisner lost in a playoff to Rickie Fowler in 2015, the second of four runner-up finishes that year before getting his first PGA Tour victory at Sea Island.


The runner-up at The Players was the most valuable to him.


“Standing up on 17, knowing you’ve got to make birdie to that pin, is probably the most difficult of any of those,” Kisner said. “And being able to do that twice, that builds confidence. I don’t care if you win or lose.”


Day is a mild surprise considering he withdrew after six holes at Bay Hill last week with a back injury. He had four cortisone shots a week ago, felt as though they worked and showed in his eight-birdie round that he was feeling better.


Woods wasn’t sure what to make of his round. He missed only two greens in regulation, but that includes his big miss on No. 17. The first wedge went deep to the back pin, down the walkway and barely over edge. He went to the drop for a 90-yard shot, and that was too strong and one-hopped over the wooden frame.


He was 5-under, tied for eighth when he stepped on the tee. He was 1-under, tied for 55th, when he left the green.


“I was pretty ticked, no doubt about that,” Woods said. “And I was bound and determined to get it all back and get it back to 5, and I thought that would have been a hell of a fight. Ended up getting back to 3 — still was a good fight to get to that point — but as of right now I’m six back, which is definitely doable on this golf course. … I just need to go out there and put it together this weekend, because right now literally anybody who makes the cut has got a chance to win this tournament.”


U.S. Open and PGA champion Brooks Koepka (71) had to wait to see if he had a chance, or if would miss his second straight cut. Jordan Spieth left knowing he had no chance after hitting balls in the water on consecutive holes and making double bogey on the seventh hole by taking two shots to get out of a fairway bunker. That negated a seven-birdie round. Spieth has missed the cut three times in eight starts this season and has not finished closer than 14 shots of the lead in the other five tournaments.