COMMENTARY | Despite paparazzi reports that Tiger Woods was bombed on Monday night in New York City, he did anything but on Thursday at The Players Championship.
Woods opened with 5-under 67 to log his best-ever first-round score in 16 Players appearances.
The 2001 champ at TPC Sawgrass trails Roberto Castro by four shots, by virtue of his course-record-tying 63. Woods is separated from the 27-year-old Georgia Tech product by Zach Johnson, co-runner-up in this event a year ago, and Nike stablemate Rory McIlroy, who finally broke par for the first time in seven rounds at the Stadium Course.
Given that Castro, Johnson and McIlroy posted their scores in the morning wave, Woods knew he had to go low in the penultimate tee time just to keep in touch with the leaders.
"It was a day that I felt like I had to go out there and shoot something in the 60s today," Woods said.
Woods had the right impression. At the end of play, 33 players broke 70, the third-highest Round 1 total in the last decade at The Players.
Until Thursday, the world No. 1 had never himself broken 70 in the first round at Pete Dye's gem. In fact, Woods hasn't shot 67 on this course since the final round of the '07 Players, when he finally broke par after three rounds on the unhappy side of it.
Woods could have turned in his first bogey-free round at The Players and tied his lowest score ever in the championship, but an unexpectedly long 8-iron approach to the last flew beyond the green and was followed up by a flubbed chip that resulted in his lone dropped shot of the day.
"I had 200 yards on the 18th hole and missed a little 8-iron that flew flag-high, so the ball was traveling," Woods explained after the round.
The 14-time major winner missed six greens on the day, but managed to get up-and-down for par every time other than at the last. He missed four fairways on the afternoon, though he let his tee shots leak to the best possible alternative. That's the secret to success at The Players: executing at all times, even with your misses.
"I think the key today is I missed all the shots in the correct spots," Woods said. "I left myself some easy up-and-downs, and I was able to convert those up-and-downs, which was nice."
Woods didn't miss every shot in the right place. Putting for par at the 15th hole, a big spike mark was in the path of his ball, nearly sending it offline. That won't be an issue on Friday morning, when Woods tees off at the 10th hole at 8:39 a.m. with defending champion Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker. The greens should be much smoother.
While another course record probably will not be out there in the second round, Woods has positioned himself for another Players title and a fourth win with this season.
Rory McIlroy has also done his part in positioning himself for what could be the first showdown between the two since the Ulsterman made history with a record-setting performance to win the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional -- the same course where Woods hosts the AT&T National later this summer.
Of course, the nature of the Stadium Course could prevent that from happening this weekend. McIlroy is yet to even make a cut in three cracks at this championship. Woods has posted just one top-10 finish in The Players since his lone win a dozen years ago.
Even if Nos. 1 and 2 find themselves in the thick of it on Sunday afternoon, the duel may be a rare sight. For years, the sport has been begging for a challenger to rise up against Woods. Save for a few fleeting moments starring largely unknown characters like Y.E. Yang and Bob May, Woods has lacked a foil, much less a consistent one.
Regardless of who would be lurking to challenge him, if Woods emerges victorious on Sunday, it would perhaps be the greatest statement since his resurgence.
The Stadium Course is an examination that requires its champions to perform the right shot on almost every shot. Woods will need the full repertoire to win.
Since beginning work with Sean Foley in the summer of 2010, Woods has preached patience and process as he developed confidence and trust in the techniques the Canadian-born instructor has been teaching him. Now seemingly armed with everything he needs, perhaps Woods can once again slay the Stadium Course.
Ryan Ballengee is a Washington, D.C.-based golf writer. His work has appeared on multiple digital outlets, including NBC Sports and Golf Channel. Follow him on Twitter @RyanBallengee.
- Sports & Recreation
- Tiger Woods
- Rory McIlroy