Saturday, 12 May 2012
Kevin Na  (Getty Images)
Kevin Na (Getty Images)

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Kevin Na led The Players Championship at Sawgrass, but Rickie Fowler’s sparkling 66 was the day’s outstanding effort in Florida.

Fowler claimed his maiden victory on the US PGA Tour when beating World Number One Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points in a play-off at the Wells Fargo Championship last week.

Clearly spurred on by the confidence gained from his success, the 23 year old delivered a masterful round in tricky conditions to finish nine under par.

Picking up where he left off last night, Fowler birdied six of the opening 11 holes and added another on the par five 16th after a perfect up and down bunker shot.

He finished off his tour de force in disappointing fashion; a bogey on 18 represented a first of the day and allowed Matt Kuchar to take the outright lead.

“I feel I am among the ones under the least pressure coming off a win,” he said. “I'm really excited about tomorrow and very confident in my game.

“I felt like I had the speed with the putter and it was a lot of fun.”

Ten under at the completion of Fowler’s round, Kuchar extended his advantage as birdies were interspersed with bogeys, epitomised by a nine hole run without a par, only for things to go awry on 17.

His mixed bag was illustrated by the tee shot finding the water, after which a brilliant next ensured he escaped with a bogey.

An impressive finishing par putt allowed Kuchar to finish 11 under, yet he was one behind Na, who holed similar efforts for birdies on 16 and 18, by the end of the play.

That completed an excellent bogey free round of 68, in which outstanding tee shots often belied the problems he was clearly having with a stuttering backswing; several times, Na was forced to re-address the ball after pulling out of his swing.

His efforts, though, paled in comparison those delivered by Fowler, whose long putting, in particular, was a joy to behold.

Indeed, the young American’s performance was only really matched by a sizzling finish from Sergio Garcia.

The Spaniard began the day level and looked set to endure frustration when making a seven on the par five second.

But that and two bogeys did not taint an outstanding display; Garcia delivered eight birdies, including five on a scintillating back nine to finish four under.

Among the chasing pack, Martin Kaymer, a Major Champion in 2010, was another notable name; the German’s five birdies cancelled out bogeys at seven and 13 to see him to five under through 17.

But a dropped shot on the last meant he ended on the same score as Garcia, alongside Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter and Tim Clark.

However, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood’s aspirations of rising to the summit of the World Golf Rankings looked increasingly faint.

The former requires top four finish, while the latter needs to emerge victorious and hope his countryman is not runner-up.

Realistically, only Donald harbours hopes of achieving the feat; he ended the day three under, two shots better off than Westwood.

That means the battle will likely re-commence at the BMW PGA Championship at the Wentworth Club - where McIlroy will be back in action after missing the cut yesterday - in just under two weeks.

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