PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. &

Sergio Garcia put together his third straight impressive round at The Players Championship. The first two gave him a runner-up finish last year. The 6-under 66 on Thursday was only a great start.




Garcia birdied all the par 5s and picked up a bonus birdie with a 50-foot putt on the 14th hole to build a two-shot lead on the frightening Stadium Course. It was a good step toward ending an 0-for-53 drought on the PGA Tour, the longest of his career.




Kenny Perry and Paul Goydos each had a 68 in the mild, morning breeze on a perfectly conditioned golf course. Sawgrass turned tricky, if not downright difficult, in the afternoon, and Ernie Els was among those who paid dearly.




Els was at 2 under until his wedge came up 20 feet short of the island green on the 17th, and he barely kept his third shot on land. He wound up with a triple bogey, and a 12-foot birdie on the final hole for a 72 didn't improve his spirits much.




Of the 34 players who broke par in the opening round, only eight played in the afternoon in the increasingly blustery conditions. Todd Hamilton was the best among late starters with a 69, while Wachovia winner Anthony Kim rallied for a 70.




Phil Mickelson, trying to become the first player in the history of this tournament to successfully defend his title, was flirting with the leaders until a sloppy middle to his round put him at 70. Coming off consecutive birdies, including a wedge to 4 feet on the 17th, Mickelson failed to reach the 18th green from the right rough, then made bogey from 95 yards away in the middle of the fairway on No. 1.




Michelob Ultra Open




At Williamsburg, Virginia, the booming drives were there, but more often than not, Michelle Wie didn't know where they were going in her first round on the LPGA Tour since February. The best scores, as usual, belonged to just about everyone else &

a course record-tying 63 by Scotland's Mhairi McKay, and a potential battle looming between Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam.




Once the most heralded young player in the women's game, Wie managed just one birdie in a zig-zagging 4-over 75 on a soggy day, even as the River Course yielded its fourth 8-under 63 in six years, 64s to Sorenstam and Sun Young Yoo, and 65s to Ochoa and Diana D'Alessio.




While 90 players in the field of 144 shot par or better, Wie was lucky to get off as easily as she did. She pulled her drive on the par-5 seventh, and only a tree kept it from flying out of bounds. She hit into the greenside rough on the par-3 13th, and it kicked onto the green. She hit her drive way right on the wide open par-4 14th, and another tree knocked it down.




In the Fields Open in Hawaii in February, the Stanford freshman tied for last among the 74 players who made the cut &

20 strokes behind winner Paula Creamer.




Italian Open




MILAN, Italy &

John Daly shot a 5-under 67 in the Italian Open, leaving him three strokes behind first-round leaders Ross McGowan and Marco Ruiz.




The 609th-ranked Daly had seven birdies and two bogeys. He hasn't finished in the top 10 in a tournament in three years.