By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Ben Crane plays his best golf when he keeps it simple.
His day began with a drive down PGA Tour Boulevard on the back of his caddie's moped because his wife had the car. Once he got on the TPC Sawgrass, he kept the ball on land -- not easy to do on a course where 89 balls found the water -- and then got it into the hole so quickly he needed only 22 putts.
He left the thrills, and the spills, to everyone else Thursday at The Players Championship.
"A lot of people say 'horses for courses,"' Crane said after a 7-under 65 for a one-shot lead. "But for me, it's just a matter of am I able to keep it simple and just play golf and not worry about too much about other things."
Tiger Woods worried about his putting. He didn't make one longer than 4 feet on his way to a 1-under 71.
Defending champion Sergio Garcia also had a 71, but there is nothing simple about his game right now. Even with a respectable score, he said he was playing so badly it "makes me want to puke."
Phil Mickelson fired off three straight birdies, then hit only four greens in regulation the rest of the way for a 73, the first time he failed to break par in the opening round on the TPC Sawgrass in eight years.
"Looked like it was going to be a great round," Mickelson said. "And then it just kind of went away."
Crane couldn't relate.
He dropped only two shots -- from a bunker on No. 8 and the rough-covered mounds right of the 14th fairway -- and made four birdie putts longer than 20 feet.
"It's one of those rounds that you just live for when you're a golfer," he said. "And I had one today at one of my favorite courses and tournaments of all time."
He had a one-shot lead over John Mallinger, Alex Cejka and Richard S. Johnson, with a large group at 67 that included Retief Goosen, David Toms, Camilo Villegas and Scott Verplank, who had two eagles -- one of them from 150 yards out on the 15th fairway, another with a putt that seemed about that long on the par-5 second.
That can happen on one of the most exciting courses in golf, where small mistakes can turn into big numbers.
Brian Gay made a small error by trying to reach the fourth green from the left rough, coming up short and into the water. He took a drop, dumped it in the water again, finally got on land and three-putted for a quintuple-bogey 9 on his way to an 80, one of five players who failed to break 80.
Or take the group of Steve Lowery, Daniel Chopra and Paul Goydos. They played the par-3 17th in a combined 18 shots, with four balls in the water -- and Goydos made a par. Lowery put two in the drink and three-putted for an 8, while Chopra rinsed two and made 7.
But there were times that Sawgrass was forgiving.
Villegas was cruising along at 3 under early in his round when he punched a 6-iron from under the trees to just short of the green, then chipped too hard and watched it roll off the green and into the water. He dropped on the edge of the putting surface and holed a 35-foot putt to walk off with a par.
"It's funny how people talk, 'Oh, this golf course is perfect for this guy or for that guy,' and trust me," Villegas said, "players don't think that way. We just get a target and swing at it. I'll be out there focusing on every target, every swing, every shot, and hopefully, keep it going."
Crane opened with consecutive birdies starting at No. 10, made the turn in 33, then ran off five birdies in a six-hole stretch along his back nine. The hole looked the same size, but it seemed like a magnet for his ball.
"How often ... from 30 feet do you actually start it there and then the read is correct? And that happened a number of times today," he said. "You just smile. You're like, 'Yeah, this is why I play golf right here."'
Johnson, who won in Milwaukee last year, had to battle to be low man in his group. He played with Verplank and Johnson Wagner, and they combined for 17 birdies, two eagles and were a collective 14 under.
Woods only felt as if he should be there on his own, especially after missing seven birdie putts inside 12 feet.
"This is probably the highest score I could have shot today," he said. "That's the way it goes."
Toms, who qualified for the tournament two weeks ago with a strong finish in New Orleans, was headed for the first-round lead until he made a few bad choices, hit a few bad shots and took three bogeys on his final four holes for a 67.
"I'm not sure exactly what I feel right now," he said. "I'm just glad to get off the golf course."
At Sawgrass, that's usually the safest place to be.