PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The wind was swirling on the par-3 third hole Thursday at TPC Sawgrass, so Joe LaCava, Tiger Woods’ caddie, stepped in for reinforcement. “Straight downwind,” LaCava said, motioning with his right hand.
Woods pulled 8-iron and flushed it. The ball pierced the brilliant blue sky, landed on the back shelf near the flag and trundled over the green. “Ugh,” Woods said, returning the iron to LaCava. “The best swing I made all day.”
His frustration level only escalated when he reached the putting surface. Behind the third green, Woods had a tough stance for his pitch shot, the ball below his feet, very little green to work with, the grain running away from him. Right before impact, a cellphone camera clicked. Woods followed through with one hand, and the ball trickled 10 feet past the cup.
“Not in my swing!” he yelled.
John Wood, Hunter Mahan’s caddie, walked to the side of the green. “Was that your camera?” Wood asked a suspicious-looking fan. They never did find the offender.
Anyway, after the distraction, Woods’ par putt slid by. He made bogey. And the circus moved on to the next hole.
“I just didn’t score,” Woods said. “It was frustrating in the sense that my good shots ended up in bad spots, and obviously, my bad shots ended up in worse spots.”
Coming off only the eighth missed cut of his professional career, Woods still was out of sorts Thursday at The Players. He didn’t birdie a single par 4, took advantage of only one par 5, struggled with the speed of the greens all afternoon, and wound up with a 2-over 74 that left him nine shots back of Ian Poulter.
“It certainly wasn’t the most positive start,” Woods said.
Not that we should be surprised. The former World No. 1 hasn’t completed all four rounds at TPC Sawgrass since 2009, having withdrawn with injuries in the past two years. In all, Woods has but one top-10 finish here since 2002, making this one of his least productive stops in the past decade.
“I didn’t get a lot out of that round,” said Woods, who never has broken 70 here in the opening round. “It should have been probably 1 or 2 under par.”
Similar sentiments were expressed last week at Quail Hollow, where he missed the cut by a shot. Woods struggled with his setup and posture, and the belief that he was stuck between two swings, his old (Hank Haney) and new (Sean Foley). Certainly, Woods’ ballstriking still wasn’t quite sharp enough on Thursday, as he hit only half of the fairways (7 of 14) and greens (9 of 18). Many of his misses off the tee were just a few feet off the fairway, but the ball tends to sink to the bottom of the Bermudagrass rough. From there, it’s gouge-and-hope golf. That’s no way to play.
The larger point, of course, is that Woods has failed to replicate the form he showed when he won Bay Hill in late March. Now, in a tie for 102nd, he needs a good round Friday to avoid missing consecutive cuts for the first time as a pro.
– Ryan Lavner
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See how his round unfolded with our Tiger Tracker (compiled by our Golfweek staff):
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No. 9, Par 5, 583 yards
Currently T-87, Tiger needs to get some positive vibes going on his final hole of the day.
• Off the tee: Tiger rips a driver, but it hooks a bit left and knocks off the top of a tree and finds an open patch of rough near the gallery.
• Second shot: Tiger is lucky to even have a shot after his wayward tee ball, and he hits his second shot low and it hooks into a fairway bunker about 100 yards from the green. He’ll have a near impossible shot to the green, as he is blocked by trees.
• Third shot: Tiger has to simply puchin it out into the middle of the fairway, where he’ll have to get up-and-down for par.
• Fourth shot: Tiger plays a nice wedge shot to just past the pin and spins it back to about six feet.
• On the green: Tiger drains the putt to finish the round at 2 over and nine shots back of leader Ian Poulter.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 2 over (thru 18 holes)
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No. 8, Par 3, 219 yards
Ian Poulter has taken the outright lead at 7 under with a birdie at No. 17. Tiger is nine shots off that pace.
• Off the tee: Tiger hits a nice shot that kicks off the side of the green and funnels to the center, leaving himself about 25 feet back down to the hole for birdie.
• On the green: Tiger reads the putt perfectly, but doesn’t give it enough speed and settles for a two-putt par. He’s really been off with his speed today, leaving a bunch of putts about a foot short.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 2 over (thru 17 holes)
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No. 7, Par 4, 442 yards
Tiger is currently eight back of leaders Blake Adams and Ian Poulter, Woods needs to try and cut that down by getting back to even par.
• Off the tee: Tiger hammers his tee ball up the right side of the fairway. The driver has not been Tiger’s issue today, looking much more comfortable with it.
• Approach shot: Tiger hits it pin-high and about 20 feet right of the flag, where he’ll have a good look at birdie.
• On the green: Tiger plays a nice putt that just moves out to the right and settles inches from the cup. He taps in for a par. Tiger has no birdies on the par 4s on Thursday.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 2 over (thru 16 holes)
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No. 6, Par 4, 393 yards
Tiger has yet to take advantage of the short par 4s at Sawgrass and approaches the final one under 400 yards on his day.
• Off the tee: Tiger only needs iron here and busts it down the fairway to give himself a chance to attack the hole.
• Approach shot: Another conservative play from Tiger, hitting the green, but is 25 feet right of the flag.
• On the green: Tiger backs off his birdie attempt due to wind gusts, but still can’t get the putt to go and settles for another par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 2 over (thru 15 holes)
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No. 5, Par 4, 466 yards
Tiger is struggling to stay within earshot of the leaders at 6 under. He’ll need to get a couple of birdies coming in to make sure he isn’t out of the tournament after the first day.
• Off the tee: Tiger takes driver and launches it down the left side, but catches a bit of rough at the longer par 4.
• Approach shot: Tiger hits the green with his second shot, but is about 60 feet right of the flag.
• On the green: Tiger hits his birdie putt close and he makes a simple two-putt par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 2 over (thru 14 holes)
• Elsewhere on the course: Unheralded Blake Adams has carded a 6-under 66 and is the clubhouse leader. Meanwhile, Angel Cabrera just picked up a nine on the par-3 17th hole.
• • •
No. 4, Par 4, 384 yards
Tiger now enters a run of four par 4s in a row, followed by a par 3 and a par 5.
• Off the tee: Tiger uses 3-wood off the tee again and hammers it down the fairway.
• Approach shot: A nice looking shot takes an unfortunate hard kick past the hole and comes to rest on the back fringe.
• Around the green: Tiger gives the chip a chance to get in the hole, but settles for a tap-in par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 2 over (thru 13 holes)
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No. 3, Par 3, 177 yards
Tiger has birdied his first two par 3s on the day, including the iconic No. 17.
• Off the tee: Tiger thinks he has a good number, but the ball hits on top of the ridge and goes over the back, leaving him with a tricky pitch.
• Around the green: A tough stance with the ball below his feet and he runs the shot about 10 feet past, with a photographer taking a picture before impact. Tiger misses the comebacker and picks up another bogey.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 2 over (thru 12 holes)
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No. 2, Par 5, 532 yards
After going 0-for-2 on the first two par 5s, Tiger will need to take advantage of the final two to help him climb back into this tournament.
• Off the tee: Tiger takes another 3-wood off the tee and hits it low and hooks it a bit. He finds the left rough, but has a good lie and a good angle with no tree trouble. He will have to stand on pine straw.
• Second shot: He is not able to hit a cut out of that lie and misses left of the green and into a bunker.
• Third shot: Only six inches away from Rickie Fowler’s ball in the same bunker, Tiger blasts out to about six feet.
• On the green: Tiger takes his time reading the putt – including calling in caddie Joe Lacava – and he drains it for a birdie.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 over (thru 11 holes)
• • •
No. 1, Par 4, 392 yards
Tiger will need to make a move on his final nine holes to make a dent in what is now a 7-shot deficit to Blake Adams.
• Off the tee: After a lengthy walk from the 18th green to the 1st tee, Tiger hammers a driver down the left side of the fairway.
• Approach shot: Tiger doesn’t carry it far enough back and catches the false front and the ball trickles all the way onto the front edge. Tiger slams his club in frustration.
• On the green: He raps it up the hill to about seven feet and then misses the par putt to pick up a second-straight bogey. It is his third miss of that length on the day.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 2 over (thru 10 holes)
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No. 18, Par 4, 447 yards
If Tiger can close the front nine at even, he’ll consider it an accomplishment considering some of the bad luck he has had on his first nine. He is 14 over on No. 18 for his career.
• Off the tee: Tiger takes 3-wood again and hammers it down the middle, but leaves himself a long second shot into the back pin location.
• Approach shot: Another defensive swing and the ball sails right of the green.
• Around the green: With a really nasty lie in the right rough, Tiger chops out to about 10 feet with his third shot. Tiger tugs his par putt to the left and says “Wow, wow, wow!” as he goes in to tap in his bogey. He makes the turn at 1-over 37.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 over (thru 9 holes)
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No. 17, Par 3, 137 yards
Coming off yet another missed opportunity on a par 5, Tiger steps up to the famous island-green par 3.
• Off the tee: A tricky shot today with the pin in the front and the wind into the golfers, but Tiger takes right over the flag and spins it back to 13 feet.
• On the green: For the second time on Thursday, Tiger picks up a birdie on a par 3, draining the left-to-right putt to get back to even.
TIGER ON THE DAY: Even (thru 8 holes)
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No. 16, Par 5, 507 yards
Tiger now approaches a tough three-hole stretch, starting with the shortest par 5 on the course.
• Off the tee: After a long wait, Tiger takes 3-wood and trickles just off the fairway on the right at the dangerous par 5. He should still be able to reach the green with no problem.
• Second shot: Tiger tugs it left, away from the water, and he’ll amazingly have a look at the pin, but between two standalone palm trees.
• Third shot: Tiger catches way too much of the ball and trickles to the right edge of the green. A really poor shot that leaves him with 40 feet for birdie.
• On the green: Tiger leaves the birdie attempt about two feet short and settles for a disappointing par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 over (thru 7 holes)
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No. 15, Par 4, 449 yards
Tiger’s putting seems to be better on Thursday, with two consecutive one-putts on Nos. 13 and 14.
• Off the tee: Tiger takes another fairway wood off the tee and lands in a fairway bunker on the right. Tiger looked in the air in disbelief as it bounced in.
• Approach shot: With a really awkward stance in the bunker – his heels pressed into the side of the lip – Tiger grips down close to the steel and pulls it left of the green. Tiger has had a couple of tough breaks the past two holes.
• Around the green: From left of the green, Tiger’s flop over a bunker doesn’t carry far enough and lands in greenside rough. He chips from there to about four feet and makes the putt for a bogey.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 over (thru 6 holes)
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No. 14, Par 4, 467 yards
Tiger seems to be building some confidence with his last two holes, with both birdie attempts really chasing the hole (with the last one finding the bottom of the cup).
• Off the tee: Tiger full-throttles a driver and finds a valley in the rough to the right, but has a good angle to attack the green.
• Approach shot: He might have a good angle, but lands in a horrible lie. He has to gouge it out and it hits in front of the green and runs off the back.
• Around the green: Tiger hits it into a hill and settles about six feet from the hole with his third shot. He pours in the putt to save par. A very nice save for Tiger.
TIGER ON THE DAY: Even (thru 5 holes)
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No. 13, Par 3, 181 yards
Tiger moves to his first par 3 of the day and is already six shots back of Blake Adams, who finished his first nine holes at 5 under.
• Off the tee: Tiger plays a beautiful shot to about eight feet and has his first legitimate birdie attempt.
• On the green: Tiger pours in the birdie putt to get back to even par on the tournament.
TIGER ON THE DAY: Even (thru 4 holes)
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No. 12, Par 4, 358 yards
Tiger lets another par 5 go by with no birdie and he’ll need to fix that to contend.
• Off the tee: Tiger takes another divot off the tee with a fairway wood, but does put it in the fairway at the short par 4.
• Approach shot: Tiger hits a three-quarters wedge shot, hits the green but is about 30 feet away from the flag. A very average shot.
• On the green: Tiger gives this birdie attempt a run, but it settles inches short and he picks up a tap-in par.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 over (thru 3 holes)
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No. 11, Par 5, 535 yards
Tiger has struggled at the par 5s in his past two tournaments, but will need to take advantage of them at TPC Sawgrass to give himself some wiggle room at the course’s tough, shorter holes.
• Off the tee: Tiger pulls out driver and hammers it down the fairway and should be able to go after the green in two.
• Second shot: Facing danger with water lining the right side, Tiger has to be careful with this shot. He takes long iron, but is too steep and chunks it. Yes, chunks it. He does manage to avoid the water, but has a 50-yard bunker shot ahead.
• Third shot: For the second straight hole, Tiger has to play a long bunker shot and puts this one about 27 feet under the hole.
• On the green: Tiger lags his birdie attempt to about a foot and taps in for a par, a bit disappointing considering his nice tee shot.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 over (thru 2 holes)
• • •
No. 10, Par 4, 424 yards
Tiger starts on the back nine on Day 1, hoping to forget about his recent success rate at the Players Championship. Tiger is dressed in a gray shirt and charcoal pants, with temperatures around 70 degrees and no wind.
• Off the tee: Tiger takes 3-wood to start the day. He takes a pretty big divot off the tee and hits it up the right side of the fairway on this dogleg left.
• Approach shot: From just off the fairway, Tiger finds a juicy lie. He comes up short and in a greenside bunker.
• Around the green: With a long bunker shot, Tiger plays a nice one to about seven feet. But he can’t convert and picks up an opening bogey despite getting a good read from Hunter Mahan’s made par putt. Meanwhile, playing competitor Rickie Fowler made birdie at No. 10.
TIGER ON THE DAY: 1 over (thru 1 hole)
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