By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PONTE VEDRA BEACH Florida (Reuters) - Adam Scott's hopes of becoming world number one for the first time after this week's Players Championship sunk on Thursday when he ended up in water on the last two holes of his opening round.
The second-ranked Australian, one of four players competing at the TPC Sawgrass who could dislodge Tiger Woods from the top spot after Sunday's final round, struggled to a five-over-par 77 to end the day in a tie for 133rd.
On a rain-softened layout ripe for low scoring, Scott mixed three birdies with two bogeys and three doubles and now faces an uphill battle on Friday just to make the cut at the event.
"It was not the finish I needed," Scott told reporters after dumping his tee shots at the par-three 17th and the par-four 18th into water.
"To hit two in the water at the end is a bit of a sin around here but it happens so I just have to go out and have a good round in the morning.
"I played all right but didn't putt very well and compounded that with poor shots on the last couple of holes. At a course like this, it can get away from you that quick."
Woods, who won this event last year, is a notable absentee from the TPC Sawgrass while continuing his recovery from back surgery and Scott was the best placed, coming into this week, of the four players capable of taking over at the top.
While much of the pre-tournament talk focused on the various world ranking scenarios, Scott has consistently said that he was much more concerned with trying to win another title.
"I haven't really thought about it (No.1) at all, it's not been my focus," he reminded reporters on Thursday after covering his back nine in a damaging five-over 41.
"I really believe it's part of the process. I didn't tee off today thinking about No. 1 because there are 72 holes before that could happen."
Bizarrely, Scott could have overtaken Woods by not competing this week at the TPC Sawgrass, simply due to a quirk in the official world ranking system.
"It's just the way it is, I guess," the Australian said on the eve of the tournament. "It's a very hard system to perfect.
"With tours all around the world, people playing everywhere and awarding fair points for everything, I think they have come up with the best (system) they possibly can and they have been fairly accurate over the years.
"Of course there's always the odd one that doesn't quite make sense, and potentially this week if I sit at home and watch everyone, I might end up No. 1. That's a bit odd but it's a complicated system."
Scott could become world number one by finishing no worse than joint 16th at the Players Championship, an event widely regarded as the unofficial fifth major with the strongest field in the game.
Also vying for the top spot are third-ranked Swede Henrik Stenson and Americans Bubba Watson (fourth) and Matt Kuchar (fifth). Stenson needs a top-six placing, Watson outright second and Kuchar no less than victory this week.
Stenson and Kuchar opened with 71s on Thursday while Watson carded a 69.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Peter Rutherford)