While conditions firmed up and a mild breeze blew through TPC Sawgrass, there were still plenty of low scores in the afternoon wave of The Players Championship, but no one came close to touching Roberto Castro’s nine-under 63 — his lead of three remains safe heading into Friday.
Tiger Woods, who hasn’t traditionally fared well consistently here, opened with a solid five-under 67. With the exception of a fatted chip on the 18th that led to a bogey, Woods’ scrambling was exceptional and he only needed 24 putts. He missed in favorable spots that resulted in good up-and-downs, but strangely, he didn’t make a putt over six feet (because those darn greens were so crusty!). “I thought I missed all the shots in the correct spots today and left myself some easier up-and-downs here,” said Woods, who prior to today had never opened this event with a score in the 60s in 15 previous starts. “Up-and-downs really aren’t too easy around here, but I left myself some good spots where I had a little bit of green to work with, and I made a couple key putts here and there, and I really took care of the par-5s. I birdied all of them today, which is nice.”
The greens got pretty bumpy in the afternoon. As we saw with Tiger’s par putt on 15, he hit a spike mark, but it still went in the hole. In fact, he took some time trying to decide which side of the mark to aim.
“I went with the right side because the grain was going the opposite direction, and it didn’t — hey, it kicked it offline and it worked out in the end,” he said, smiling. “I got lucky.”
Heading into Friday, Tiger said he just needs to play better. Yes, he shot 67 on an “off” day. After all, he only hit 12 of 18 greens in regulation. But good news is he’s teeing off in the morning with fresh greens.
“The greens will certainly be smoother,” said Woods, who won the 2001 Players Championship. “There were some nice little dicey short ones out there. And Sneds hit a couple of good putts that got kicked offline, and I had a huge spike mark there at 15, and hopefully tomorrow we’ll get some smooth greens and get it going.”
Meanwhile, a day after filing a lawsuit against the PGA Tour, Vijay Singh was greeted on the first tee with a fan wearing a hat with deer antlers attached at TPC Sawgrass, the home of the PGA Tour at its flagship event. Since Singh, who posted a two-over 74, declined to comment, we’re not sure if he saw the guy. In fact, after the round, there was a getaway cart waiting for him in the scoring area to take him to his car.
However, Robert Garrigus, who is paired with Singh in the first two rounds, did indeed see the deer antler guy. “It was pretty special,” said Garrigus, sarcastically. “They were getting a little saucy (near the end of the day). There were a couple of guys that were being stupid, otherwise it was fine.”
Before he made his birdie putt on the famed par-3 17th, an older gentleman in the stands yelled, “Vijay, you’re a bum! Boo on you!” And it was very loud. Another fan hollered, “You suck, Vijay!” Garrigus, who told me yesterday he would make light of the situation on the first tee, did indeed succeed at cracking a joke with Singh.
“We kind of made fun of it today on the first tee, to loosen things up a little bit, which I do very well,” said Garrigus, who shot even par. “I was like, ‘Well, you’re in the spotlight right now, aren’t you, big guy?'” Vijay replied, “For all the wrong reasons.” He’s got that right! And that was the extent of Garrigus’s discussion with Singh about the lawsuit.
Padraig Harrington had a rollercoaster of a day. The three-time major champion, who switched to a belly putter last week despite being opposed to the anchored stroke, had an eagle, five birdies, a double-bogey, a bogey and 10 pars. Which all added up to four-under 68 at the end.
“I had hit some nice shots up to that stage,” said Harrington, referring to his double-bogey on no. 3. “I kind of got a little bit unlucky with the wind. I hit a bad tee shot, but got unlucky with the wind. It switched on 3, and it was a bad double bogey. Nice to make a birdie. I played 5 well, so that wasn’t so bad.
“You know, I really didn’t think it was so erratic, because I had hit the ball nicely, and the scoring was erratic, but I hit the ball reasonably consistently for those five holes. So I was in a decent place, but it was very important to get that birdie on 9 to get me under par. That was a big birdie.”
Harrington had the belly putter adjusted between missing the cut last week at the Wells Fargo Championship and the start of the Players Championship. Now, it sits better. He only needed 25 putts on his way to shooting 68 on Thursday.
“Well, I’ll only stick with it if I’m holing putts,” said Harrington, an R&A ambassador. “As I said, I’ve been working on my putt and I haven’t been putting very well, and mechanically, I’ve been working away.
“And I had a look at my stroke, and I had it analyzed. And I was kind of bored, so I picked up a belly putter and tried that. I was surprised, as much as I don’t like the feel of the belly putter, I was surprised that the stroke was actually better. So it just means that it’s easier to have a good putting stroke, so, it’s just a question of feeling it, using it, practicing and getting to trust it like I have with my own putter for a long period of time, and it should mean an improvement.
(AP Photo/John Raoux; AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Bob Mack)