Friday, 11 May 2012
Zach Johnson  (Getty Images)
Zach Johnson (Getty Images)

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Zach Johnson retained the lead in The Players Championship at Sawgrass as the chasing pack failed to match the American’s heroics in Florida.

Johnson, winner of the Masters tournament in 2007, took advantage of Martin Laird’s poor finish to set a clubhouse target that was not looking under threat.

Laird, whose opening 65 matched that of England’s Ian Poulter, moved his score to 10 over after carding five birdies and two bogeys in his opening 15 holes.

However, a poor finish - the Scot dropped four shots on the last three - paved the way for Johnson’s charge; he followed up his opening 70 with an outstanding 66 - an effort matched today only by John Huh.

Laird’s disappointment was in no way comparable to that endured by Poulter, though.

Starting on seven under, the Englishman’s hopes were high, yet a double bogey on the tenth - his starting hole - set the tone for a frustrating front nine.

Poulter repeated the trick two holes later followed by a bogey on 15 - though he did claw a shot back with a birdie on the next and subsequently turn on three under.

That meant Harris English, 22, was Johnson’s closest challenger after the 22 year old’s 67 left him one shot adrift.

An eight strong group, including Laird and Brian Davis, were on six under.

English duo Luke Donald and Lee Westwood scented the opportunity to move to the summit of the World Rankings after current leader Rory McIlroy carded 76.

The Ulsterman began with a solid 72, but ended today on four over - a score that ensured he would not be around tomorrow with the projected cut at level par.

That gives Westwood and Donald the opportunity to become World Number One; the latter would manage that with a top four finish, while the former needs to emerge victorious and hope his current playing partner does not come second.

Donald, beginning on the tenth hole, looked imperious as he eagled the 16th and second, although his joy was tempered by bogeys on three of the next five.

That run derailed a round that promised much, yet he did finish three under after birdying the last - an effort that Westwood matched to close on the same score.

Tim Clark, a winner in this competition two years ago, enjoyed a memorable moment when fortuitously holing his second shot out of the bunker on the par four seventh.

That left the South African in good shape to charge into contention; he was four under par through 10.

Three time Major Champion Padraig Harrington’s round opening double bogey halted his charge as he slipped to one under.

Germany’s Martin Kaymer struck 69 to atone for yesterday’s 73 and close on two under alongside Phil Mickelson.

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