PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Contrived pandemonium. That’s what unfolded Thursday afternoon when the PGA Tour dumped three superstars on the first tee at the same time at TPC Sawgrass in Round 1 of the Players Championship.
Everyone seemed partied out by the time Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler finished on a largely anticlimactic note more than five hours later.
Woods bogeyed 18 and failed to break par for the seventh time in his last nine rounds, Mickelson was nearly dead last at 7 over and Fowler never really got going throughout an uninspired round of 74.
“Towards the back nine it started getting a little sparse,” Woods said. “I think they might have tipped a couple back and got a little sleepy. I think tomorrow will be a little bit different.”
The trio is back at it at 8:27 a.m. Friday morning with Woods at a crossroads after an even-par round of 72. He’s only six shots off the lead, but he’s also flirting with the cut line at T-69 entering Round 2.
Six players are tied for the lead at 6 under, Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar among them, and Woods needs to start making birdies with more regularity if he hopes to make things interesting this weekend.
“We have to go out there and tear this place apart,” Woods said. “We’ve got to be aggressive and go low. This golf course is playing a little bit on the easier side. … There’s too many guys out there that are playing really well and going low, and my responsibility was to go low and shoot something in the red today.”
Woods couldn’t feed off the crowd and began the day 2 over through eight holes. At that point he’d played 29 consecutive holes without a birdie or eagle. It was his longest such stretch as a professional since 2010, and it finally came to an end Thursday at the par-5 ninth.
Woods had 240 yards in and hit his approach just over the green. Then he had to wait a while because Mickelson hit his third shot across the green and was still away when his chip wound up well short and rolled back toward his feet.
Finally, Woods sank his 18-foot eagle putt for his first sub-par hole since Round 3 of last week’s Wells Fargo Championship. He added two more birdies on the back nine to go with two bogeys, including one which stemmed from a tee shot that landed in the water left of the 18th fairway.
He salvaged things a bit by sinking an 11-footer for bogey at 18, earning a nice round of applause but nothing close to the volumes which surrounded the group earlier in the afternoon.
“That was just a bad golf shot,” Woods said of his iron off the 18th tee. “I just didn’t want to shoot an over-par round. I knew I was going to drop a shot but didn’t want to shoot an over-par round. I was playing better than that. So it was nice to make that putt.”
Woods was more erratic off the tee than last week, including at the par-5 11th when he hit it well right into a patch of trees.
He arrived to his ball in the pine straw and a nearby fan told Woods how close he had been standing when the ball landed.
“Knock it that way next time,” Woods joked, pointing toward the fairway.
Woods smiled often throughout his post-round interview, but he knows he can’t wait so long to get it going in Round 2 if he hopes to avoid his third straight lackluster result following a T-37 at the Masters and T-55 at the Wells Fargo.
“There’s a lot of birdie holes out there tomorrow,” Woods said. “If it stays calm in the morning, you’ll see a bunch of guys go low.”