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Rory McIlroy cards 69 at TPC Sawgrass; Jordan Spieth shoots 75

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- After spending their opening nine holes moving in opposite directions on the leaderboard, playing partners Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth walked down the next fairway talking and laughing with each other.

Was the world's No. 1 player offering an impromptu pep talk to the Masters champion? Was he employing a little trash-talking inside the ropes?

"We were talking about hairstyles," a smiling McIlroy later said. "I sort of said to him, 'You have a green jacket, your hair can be whatever you want it to be.'"

Paired together for just the seventh round in their young careers, McIlroy opened his Players Championship campaign with a 3-under 69 while Spieth struggled to a 75.

"Just didn't quite trust it today until I was already too far behind the 8-ball," Spieth said. "Just a really, really poor day. I've got to find something to work on. Sometimes when you're hitting it really well, you just get tough breaks and you have a bad day. This wasn't one of those. I actually really need to find something on the range."

He added that it was his flatstick that kept his score in the 70s.

"If I didn't putt well today," he said, "it could have gone up there towards that 8 number."

Meanwhile, it was business as usual for McIlroy.

Fresh off his WGC-Cadillac Match Play victory last weekend, he posted an eagle and two birdies against a lone bogey on a TPC Sawgrass course he described as "frustrating" one day earlier.

"I've learned now what a good score is around this golf course," he said of his Players experiences. "I think anything in the 60s is a decent score today. Anything under par, really."

Playing the back nine first, McIlroy raced out to a 3-under 33 on that side, his fifth consecutive back-nine split of 33 or better on this course, dating back to last year. He closed with an even-par 36 on the front.

"There's a lot of chances on that back nine," he said. "I just feel comfortable on it, feel comfortable on the closing stretch, so if I can keep up my good play on back nine like I have and be a little bit more consistent like I was on the front nine, then hopefully that bodes well for the week."

The third member of their group, seventh-ranked Jason Day, also opened with a 69.