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Castro dazzles with 9-under 63 at Players

Robert Castro’s three-shot lead over Rory McIlroy and Zach Johnson is the largest 18-hole margin in 21 years at Sawgrass. (Associated Press)
Robert Castro’s three-shot lead over Rory McIlroy and Zach Johnson is the largest 18-hole margin in 21 years at Sawgrass. (Associated Press)

Golf: Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy had their best start ever Thursday in The Players Championship. It still wasn’t enough to catch Roberto Castro, who had never played the TPC Sawgrass and made a debut he won’t soon forget at Ponte Verda Beach, Fla.

Castro hit shots into tap-in range on the famed 17th and 18th holes on his way to a 9-under 63 in perfect scoring conditions in the morning. He tied the course record held by Fred Couples and Greg Norman, and it gave him a three-shot lead – the largest 18-hole margin in 21 years at Sawgrass – over McIlroy and Zach Johnson.

Woods had to work a little harder in the afternoon, when a breeze arrived and the sun began to make the greens firm. Even so, he was on the cusp of his first bogey-free round in his 16 years at The Players until his 8-iron from 200 yards went just over the green and he flubbed his chip.

The bogey gave him a 67, which was the first time he has broken 70 in the opening round at Sawgrass.

France shocks Russia at ice hockey worlds

Hockey: Defending champion Russia was upset 2-1 by France, which shocked a team dominated by NHL and KHL players at the worlds championships at Helsinki.

Russia lost to a group of mainly French league players, who ended Russia’s 13-match winning streak at the world championships.

France’s second win in four games gives it a good chance of staying in the premier group at the worlds and an outside chance of making the quarterfinals with a top-four finish in its group. It still has to play the United States, Latvia and Germany.

In Stockholm, the Czech Republic beat Denmark 2-1 after a shootout, with Zbynek Irgl scoring on his team’s fifth and sixth shots.

Nishikori upsets Federer at Madrid

Tennis: Second-ranked Roger Federer lost to Kei Nishikori 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 in the third round of the Madrid Open, leaving Rafael Nadal as the clear title favorite.

Federer’s early exit leaves Nadal as the apparent front-runner after world No. 1 Novak Djokovic bowed out on Tuesday.

Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova reached the women’s quarterfinals in straight sets.

Williams dispatched Maria Kirilenko of Russia 6-3, 6-1, after Sharapova beat Sabine Lisicki of Germany 6-2, 7-5.

Williams will take on local favorite Anabel Medina Garrigues.

Sharapova will face Kaia Kanepi next after she defeated Daniela Hantuchova 6-3, 6-4.

Altidore lifts AZ Alkmaar to Cup

Soccer: American Jozy Altidore scored the decisive goal in the 14th minute, leading AZ Alkmaar over PSV Eindhoven 2-1 in Rotterdam, Netherlands, for its first Dutch Cup title in 31 years.

Altidore doubled the lead with his 31st goal of the season in all competitions, his eighth in the cup to go along with 23 in the league.

British sailor dies during practice

Miscellany: A 72-foot-long Swedish sailboat capsized in San Francisco Bay while practicing for the upcoming America’s Cup races, killing an Olympic gold medalist from the United Kingdom and injuring another sailor, authorities said.

Artemis Racing said Andrew “Bart” Simpson died after the capsized boat’s platform trapped him underwater for about 10 minutes.

Simpson served as the Swedish team’s strategist and had won one Olympic gold medal and one silver medal. He was 36 years old, according to San Francisco Fire Department officials.

Artemis said doctors couldn’t revive Simpson after he was freed from the wreckage.

• Ujiri named NBA’s top executive: Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri was named the NBA’s executive of the year, a day after George Karl was named the league’s top coach.

Ujiri, the first African-born GM in major American sports, built the Nuggets team that won an NBA franchise-record 57 games and went an NBA-best 38-3 at home before bowing out in the first round.

• Paolini keeps lead: Mark Cavendish dominated the sprint finish of the sixth stage of cycling’s Giro d’Italia and Luca Paolini held the overall lead at Margherita di Savoia, Italy.

Cavendish, the British standout with the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team, clocked 3 hours, 56 minutes, 3 seconds over the mostly flat 104-mile leg.