Tiger Woods in early tournament trouble again with opening 74

If Tiger Woods' return to the golf summit is a "process," it's a process that's taking a lot longer than anyone expected.

One week after uncharacteristically missing a cut at the Wells Fargo, Woods is in the same danger again at The Players Championship following an unspectacular 2-over round that left him nine shots behind leader Ian Poulter.

"Any kind of momentum I'd build, I would just shoot myself in the foot on the very next hole," Woods said. "One of those days." One of those years. Woods hasn't missed two cuts in a single season since 2005, and absent a strong surge on Friday, he'll miss two in a row.

Woods started out with a bogey on the 10th hole, where he began, and then swapped birdies and bogeys for many of the next 11 holes. He brought home his final six holes in even par, but kept giving back the strokes he'd earn with every birdie. He rarely looked at ease with his swing, his putts or his decision-making, and it showed in the final score of 74.

The Players isn't anywhere near Woods' best tournament; he's only won it once. In the last two years, he's bailed early because of injuries. And after his Thursday round, that might not seem like such a terrible idea again: He only birdied one of the par 5s, and hit only half the fairways and half the greens in regulation. Those kinds of stats won't keep him around until the weekend.

[Slideshow: See images of first-round action at TPC Sawgrass]

Yes, yes, there will be the questions of "why focus attention on someone so far off the lead?" And yes, most of the people saying that haven't even bothered to read this far. But here's the truth: Even in a world of Rickie and Rory, a world where the new golf order is starting to assert itself, this is still Tiger's game. This is still a world where the vast majority wants to know how Tiger is finishing, not who's leading.

Of course, if McIlroy and Fowler keep winning, and if Tiger keeps fading before the weekend, that will very soon change.

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