Martin Kaymer leads after first round at The Players Championship

Martin Kaymer leads The Players Championship with a nine-under 63 – with English duo Lee Westwood and Justin Rose four shots back in a nine-way share of third place.

Russell Henley is sitting in second on seven-under par, while Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell has placed himself snugly on three under, one shot ahead of Rory McIlroy.

Kaymer has so far carded a seven-under front nine – equalling the course record held at Sawgrass. The German started on the 10th where he picked up birdies on 11 and 15 before coming through his last nine holes in 29 shots – including birdies on the final four. The 29-year-old can now boast matching the scores of Fred Couples (1992), Greg Norman (1994) and Roberto Castro (2003).

If Kaymer wins at Sawgrass, he will become only the fourth European to take the title since in began 1974 and bring to a close more than two years of waiting for a tournament victory after winning the 2011 WGC Champions tournament in Shanghai.

He said: "I played a lot better the last four or five weeks.

"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 over the last few weeks and it worked out nicely today."

Defending champion Tiger Woods is not playing as he remains home while healing from back surgery, but could find himself no longer ranked as world number one as there are four players on the field who could overhaul him in his absence.

Australia’s Adam Scott, currently world number two, is well adrift of a needed top-16 finish at five over, but is still instilled as favourite to take top spot.

Bubba Watson won his second US Masters last month and finds himself in a good position at three under, while fellow American Matt Kuchar and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson are both in contention at one under.