• Englishman shot first-round 65 in Players Championship
• ‘He is one of the best players in the world’

It was hardly a shock to hear Rory McIlroy endorse the chances of Tommy Fleetwood winning in the United States before long. Singing Tommy’s praises has become an understandable theme.

The Players Championship has not been kind to British players – Sandy Lyle is the only one to have won it, in 1987 – but Fleetwood is clearly of a mind to break the mould. A first-round 65, which included a closing nine of 30, catapulted the Southport player to the top of the leaderboard. “He is one of the best players in the world, and he’s had his chances already,” said McIlroy of his Ryder Cup teammate. “So, yes, I think it’s only a matter of time for sure.”

McIlroy’s round was impressive enough. A bogey-free 67 may well have been better but for a freakish break at the 9th, his 18th, as McIlroy’s ball flew 50 yards over the green having hit a sprinkler head. He demonstrated no ill-effects whatsoever from falling short at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday. “It’s a new week,” McIlroy said. “That’s the great thing about golf. Once you wake up on Monday morning, it’s a fresh start. It’s a new tournament, it’s a new opportunity. That’s the nice thing about our game, which doesn’t happen in some other sports, and it’s nice to take advantage of that luxury.”

This, however, was Fleetwood’s day again. It is to the 28-year-old’s credit that he embraces the prospect of breaking his PGA Tour duck rather than being weighed down by the scale of the challenge. “I love playing out here,” Fleetwood said. “It’s clearly the next step for me to win over here, but winning is not easy, and I’ve just got to keep plugging away, keep doing the right things and focus on myself. Hopefully that [victory] will come but there’s no point in sort of not thinking about it or letting other people do the talking. Clearly that’s sort of the next thing that’s going to happen, everybody’s career goes in those stages, and hopefully mine will be the same.”

Dustin Johnson and Sergio García opened with three-under-par 69s. Justin Rose took a triple bogey at the 1st and double bogey at the 5th, which rendered his 74 far from disastrous. The American Brian Harman and South Korea’s An Byeong-hun lie a shot adrift of the leader. Keegan Bradley matched Fleetwood’s 65 later in day before Tigers Woods posted a 70.