Tiger Woods was nowhere near the top of the leaderboard after the first round of play at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, but neither will he have to worry about not making the cut tomorrow.
After the worst two rounds of his career at Quail Hollow, and a shaky week of practice for The Players, Tiger Woods turned in a relatively respectable 2-under, tying him for 37th.
While that score doesn’t sound particularly Tiger-like, this was the first time in his career that Woods broke 70 in first-round play at Sawgrass.
“I left a few shots out there, Woods said on the Golf Channel after the match. “I didn’t make many putts today at all. I only made three birdies today. I had myself in there with a few chances to make some putts, make some birdies and didn’t really do it.”
Despite not being among the leader, Woods seemed completely confident that his game was on track and improving.
“I felt like I’ve done some good work this week, even though reports are that I was hitting it all over the lot,” Woods told the press in an interview on the Golf Channel.
“I was working on a few things. I was very comfortable with what I was working towards and I was very excited about what was happening. It’s just a matter of doing it in competition and I did it today.”
Woods said that his layoff was the only cause for his erratic performance, and he felt he had the matter in hand.
“I’ve played six competitive rounds in seven months,” he said “It takes time to get into the rhythm of competing and it takes tournaments. I haven’t had a whole lot of tournaments under my belt. Most guys have played double-digit tournaments by now; this is my third.
“I missed basically three months of competing. I normally play in February. I usually go over to Dubai and play and the play the match play and then the Florida swing. So I’ve got some tournaments under my belt before I play the Masters and get here. I‘ve only had six rounds so it’s not a lot.”
Hit a Few, Miss a Few
The course at TPC Sawgrass was designed deliberately to not favor any particular style of play, with a mixture of long and short holes, left- and right-hand doglegs and ridges and hills on the greens, to challenge the most talented golfers.
Sawgrass rewards precision, not power. The way to win at Sawgrass is to play the angles. A player like Tiger Woods, with extremely powerful drives, loses that advantage on all but a few holes. But at the same time, this could be helpful, by forcing Woods to calm down and play carefully.
Woods’s game was erratic, but he made enough great shots to balance the bad shots.
His first drive was into the rough, but his second drive was beautiful. He put his second shot at Seven into the rough, then dropped his second shot at Nine within putting range of the pin.
On Twelve Woods drove it into the deep rough—the wilderness, actually. His ball landed deep in a clump of mule grass. Rather than take a stroke, Woods took the chance to blast it out, and ended up in the rough again. Unfazed, Woods chipped it to within six feet of the pin and putted for par.
Woods needs to finish well in The Players to hold on to his #1 ranking. If Phil Mickelson were to win, Tiger would need fifth or better to stay on top. Mickelson also shot a 2-under in the first round.
Allenby, Holmes Top the Leaderboard
American J.B. Holes and UK’s Robert Allenby led the day, 6-under, with eight more tied at 5-under.
Both players turned in uncharacteristically solid performances, taking advantage of the favorable conditions.
“I played well all day I was putting well, I was hitting the greens, and the two greens I actually missed, I was still putting because I was only a foot of the green, so pretty close to eighteen greens,” Robert Allenby said after the round. “I did everything well today.”
“It was one of the rounds where everything felt pretty easy,” J.B. Holmes told the interviewer on Golf Channel. “The wind wasn’t up too bad today and the greens were where you could hit some shots in there and hold ‘em, so it was a chance to shoot some scores. This thing could definitely dry out in the weekend so it’s good to put up a good number early.”
Rains the night before have left some of the greens a little slow which caused many players to leave leaving putts short, but also made the greens a bit more forgiving.
Mickelson Struggling but Confident
Phil Mickelson started his round with a birdie, but struggled thereafter, finishing tied with Tiger at 2-under.
“Shooting 70 today isn’t the round you want,” Mickelson said. “We came out in perfect conditions. There wasn’t much wind, the greens were receptive and there were a lot of low scores.”
“The reason I think this was a good day for me is I just didn’t have it,” he explained. “I let a lot of shots slide on the course today around the greens. I had 6-irons into a couple of par-5s that I didn’t take advantage of and made pars, and yet I was able to shoot a couple under par.
”So tomorrow if I can come out and get hot and shoot something in the mid sixties I can get right back in the tournament.”