Players Championship 2014: Martin Kaymer storms into early lead after German equals TPC Sawgrass course record with a nine-under-par 63

Kaymer leads American Russell Henley as Europeans lead the charge in the so-called fifth major

Four men came into the Players Championship with the chance to become world number one, but it was a player who has already held top spot who hit the headlines on the opening day at Sawgrass.

Ryder Cup hero Martin Kaymer carded a stunning round of 63 to spearhead the European challenge for a rare victory in golf's so-called fifth major, the German equalling the course record to finish two shots ahead of American Russell Henley.

Kaymer, who won the US PGA Championship in August 2010 and reached world number one the following February, started from the 10th and birdied the 11th and 15th to be out in 34, before storming home in just 29 shots with seven birdies, four of them in his last four holes.

"I played a lot better the last four or five weeks," said Kaymer, who secured the point which ensured Europe retained the Ryder Cup after the 'Miracle at Medinah' in 2012 but has slid down the world rankings to his current 61st place.

"I didn't make that many mistakes recently which was nice; if you can keep the ball in play and take advantage of some chances it's a nice bonus so overall I'm very happy the way I'm playing golf right now.

"The ball-striking has been a lot better the last two or three months. At the beginning I couldn't make that many putts so I worked more on that the last few weeks and it worked out nicely."

Ryder Cup team-mates Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose were all five under along with Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano to boost the chances of just a fourth European victory in the event in 41 attempts.

Graeme McDowell recovered from two over after six holes to return a 69, but fellow Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy had to settle for a 70 after being five under par through 11 holes. Scotland's Stephen Gallacher matched McIlroy's 70 on his tournament debut courtesy of a back nine of 33 which included birdies on the 16th and 18th.

With Tiger Woods unable to defend his title after undergoing back surgery just before the US Masters, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar all started the event with the chance to overtake the 14-time major winner as world number one.

In fact, due to a quirk of the rankings system Scott would have overtaken Woods if he had not played and the Australian must have wished he had stayed at home after making double bogeys on the 17th and 18th in a 77.

Stenson, who needs a top-six finish, also found water on the 17th but returned a 71 that was matched by Kuchar, despite the American hooking his drive into water on the 18th to close with a double bogey.

Two-time Masters champion Watson, who needs to finish alone in second or better to overhaul Woods, was three under after a 69.

PA

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