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The Players Championship: Ian Poulter, Martin Laird tied for lead; Tiger Woods needs rally to avoid missing cut

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — After Ian Poulter birdied the 16th and 17th, then made a nice par at the difficult 18th, he could walk off the course at TPC Sawgrass following the first round of the Players Championship and say without exaggeration, “That’s definitely, probably one of the top-10 rounds of golf I’ve ever played.” His 7-under-par 65 gave him the lead when he walked off the Stadium Course, and by the end of the day he was tied by Martin Laird, who turned in his 65 without a bogey.

Tiger Woods, conversely, marched from his final hole in the first round, signed his scorecard for a 2-over 74, and sighed: “I didn’t get a lot out of that round.”

So Friday at the Players sets up as a chance to see whether Poulter, the brash and talented Englishman who has won just once in the United States, can continue playing “the golf I feel I should be playing,” he said. It will be a chance to see if Laird, a Scot who has two PGA Tour wins, can beat what is annually one of the sport’s strongest fields.

But more intriguingly, it’s an opportunity to see whether Woods can corral what appears to be an erratic game and avoid missing the cut for what would be an unprecedented second week in a row.

“I just didn’t score,” Woods said. “ . . . It was frustrating in the sense that my good shots ended up in bad spots, and obviously my bad shots ended up in worse spots.”

Woods missed the cut at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship, just the eighth time he’s failed to play the weekend as a pro. After Thursday, he sits tied for 100th in a 144-player field; the top 70 players, and anyone tied for 70th, will make the cut and survive to the weekend. Only once in his career, in 2005, has Woods missed as many as two cuts in the same season.

Poulter and Laird had no such concerns. Laird, who last won in 2011 at Bay Hill, changed caddies last week. That, he said, “kind of relaxed me,” and he didn’t make a bogey on Thursday. Poulter made eight birdies and had nine one-putt greens. He and Laird’s results weren’t their only difference from Woods.

“I do fill my brain full of lots of funny things at times,” Poulter said. “It’s nice when that’s empty and I can do what it is I love to do, and that’s go out there and play golf. It’s a little demanding out there, and I played very well.”

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