Some moments of brilliance. Some veritable head-scratchers. Plenty of in-between. All in all, it was a fine first day in Florida for one of golf's greatest, as Tiger Woods emerged from the first round of the Players Championship as he entered it: with an even score.
As might be expected with a trio as talented as that of Woods, Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson, there were plenty of highlights from Round One: Mickelson's recovery for birdie on 12. Fowler's putt from downtown on 15. And, of course, Woods' wondrous shot for eagle to close out the front nine.
Woods struggled mightily in his putting game early, quickly calling to mind the issues that have plagued him mightily in recent events. But that magical out shot on nine seemed to key his overall recovery, and he was never far from the lead. Fowler was consistent for much of the day and, in truth, would've led the group had he gotten a bit luckier on the front nine, while Mickelson was good early but rapidly faded down the stretch. He'll need an excellent outing on Friday to have a chance to play over the weekend. For Woods, it was a solid overall effort as he looks to regain the form, and the health, that has eluded him so in recent campaigns.
Here's a hole-by-hole summary of Woods' opening outing, with plenty of highlights and notes on the other two former Players champions as well.
Most of the talk focused on Lefty's choice to replicate his long-sleeved Masters look, despite the less-than-agreeable Florida weather.
Woods went with this look.
Hole 1- Par 4: Par, E for day, E for tournament
Woods began his quest for a third Players title by pushing his opening drive more than 330 yards but into the right bunker. He reached the green on his next shot, but his birdie bid dragged on its path to the hole and stopped hardly a foot from paydirt. He barely even bent over as he easily tapped in for par to start the day.
Who knows what we can expect from Tiger in this tournament? He had a legitimate birdie chance on his first hole of the afternoon, but settling for par is far from the worst outcome he could've gotten.
Hole 2- Par 5: Par, E for day, E for tournament
After a poor opening drive left him thoroughly in the right three bank, Woods was forced to chip 50 yards back onto the fairway to set up his approach. He did well to hit the green on his third shot, but still faced an eagle chance of about 50 yards. He left his first long-range putt nearly six feet short, but after he watched Mickelson sink a birdie shot from 22 feet out Woods cashed in on his second putt to stay at par.
Woods did well to reach the green in three shots after a poor tee shot, and Mickelson only took a one stroke lead after two holes.
Hole 3- Par 3: Bogey, +1 for day, +1 for tournament
Woods stepped up to the short par 3 third and blasted his opener too strong to the right into the rough past the green. He set himself up well, though, chipping to a little more than five feet short of the hole. However, he pushed his par putt just a bit strong, missing by nary a foot, before tapping in for bogey.
It was probably good for Woods that his tee shot went too long instead of short, because he gave himself a legitimate par chance before his putting let him down. Both Fowler and Mickelson parred, leaving Woods in third in the group after three.
Hole 4- Par 4: Par, +1 for day, +1 for tournament
Woods might have had the most promising start on four of any of his terrific trio. With Fowler and Mickelson both teeing off into the right bunker, Woods stayed on the fairway and then chipped onto the green, getting the closest to the hole out of the three. With a good chance at birdie, Woods might have caught some drag from the grass, but regardless his third shot screeched to a halt less than a foot short. He tapped in with one hand for par.
After the best first two shots of the trio, Woods, in truth, failed to take advantage in his par trip. The other two, meanwhile, recovered for par as well, keeping the group standings as they were.
Hole 5- Par 4: Bogey, +2 for day, +2 for tournament
A spot of luck for Tiger to kick off the notably difficult fifth, as his opening drive appeared to bounce out of the sand bunker and fortuitously onto the rough island on the right side. He pushed his second shot into the right rough near the crowd, and then didn't set himself up very well, leaving his chip shot 11 feet shy of the hole. Still, his par putt was incredibly close, just rimming out on the right side. Woods tapped in for his second bogey in the first five.
Mickelson hit his first two shots into the gallery but recovered impressively for bogey, while Fowler rimmed out a birdie chance to stay even. Woods moved to two shots behind both of his partners through five.
Hole 6- Par 4: Par, +2 for day, +2 for tournament
Woods started off number six with a great tee shot and perhaps a better second shot, lofting it onto the green on one bounce. The ball plopped north of the hole but then rolled a few feet back towards the finish. Woods had the best chance for birdie but he once again couldn't capitalize on his putt from a little more than ten feet out.
Fowler seems to be getting in a groove. He's parred every hole so far, but he has rimmed out a birdie chance on each of the last three. Phil has slowed somewhat, but Tiger's poor putting has left him two strokes behind the other two a third of the way through the day.
Hole 7- Par 4: Par, +2 for day, +2 for tournament
Recovering from a just-decent tee shot that put him near the three small sand traps on the right rough, Woods cleared the water and sand hazards and plopped his shot firmly onto the green. He had a legitimate chance at what would've been his longest birdie make on this hole in his career, but rolled the shot about two feet past the hole on the right side before settling for another par.
It was not a guaranteed birdie by any means, but with Mickelson dealing with the sand and bogeying and Fowler just missing out on birdie again, Woods missed a chance to climb back in the standings and remains in third in the group. Fowler will start capitalizing sooner or later, you'd imagine.
Hole 8- Par 3: Par, +2 for day, +2 for tournament
Both Mickelson and Fowler teed off into the sand bunker on the left side, and Woods answered with the best opening shot of the bunch, finishing just under 30 feet from the finish with just one hit. Both Fowler and Mickelson did well to chip near to the hole and make a difficult par putt, and Woods could do no better.
That second shot on this short hole was a fine setup shot for another par, but Woods' groupmates showed their class in overcoming a poor first shot to get the same result Tiger did. Fowler, still at even, remains the group leader.
Hole 9- Par 5: Eagle, E for day, E for tournament
A textbook start to the final hole on the first half of the first day for Woods, who uncorked the longest drive on the hole today before a six-iron shot carried through the green and into the fairway on the north side of the hole, 18 and a half feet away. He then authored the final chapter of that textbook by sinking the putt, putting a little bit of leftward spin on it to cash in for an eagle. And just like that, he was back even.
Mickelson hit into the gallery again and bogeyed and Fowler finally notched his first birdie to move to one-under, but Woods was the story of the ninth, notching just his second eagle of the season to clinch a level front nine.
Hole 10- Par 4: Par, E for day, E for tournament
The second half of the day didn't start nearly as well as the first half ended, as Woods' opening shot landed square in the sand on the left side. He responded well, however. nearly catching the green on the left side to set up a two-shot for par. He executed, but not without some sweat: his third shot stopped nearly eight feet short of the target, and Woods had to make a nice fourth shot to exit the tenth clean.
Fowler, who remains extremely solid, ended up in nearly the same spot as Woods after two shots, and set up his par shot much more effectively. Mickelson, meanwhile, parred as well to keep pace.
Hole 11- Par 5: Par, E for day, E for tournament
Take cover! Tiger clunked his tee shot over the spectators and firmly into the, erm, woods on the right side of the fairway, approximately 250 feet from the target, but he recovered extremely well and got onto the green, under 26 feet from paydirt, just two shots later. Facing another difficult birdie putt, Woods rolled his shot less than two feet to the right and tapped in for par again.
Mickelson hit an excellent first two shots to get onto the green after a pair, and finished off a birdie to move back to one-over. Fowler, facing the consequences of a poor first shot of his own, nearly missed a putt for par and settled for his first plus-finish of the afternoon, leveling with Woods at even through eleven.
Hole 12- Par 4: Birdie, -1 for day, -1 for tournament
A terrific twelfth hole turned in by Tiger to give him his first group lead of the day. He teed off with an iron and then wedged right onto the center of the green, landing fewer than five feet from the hole after just two shots. He capitalized on the chance he created for himself, recording his first birdie to move ahead of schedule for the first time today.
Fowler, meanwhile, was aggressive, shooting his tee shot just past the green, and skimming his eagle chance just around and out on the left side of the rim. After a poor tee shot that went into the sand, Mickelson recovered masterfully to pick up a birdie of his own to keep one shot behind Fowler.
Hole 13- Par 3: Par, -1 for day, -1 for tournament
Anything can happen on a hole this short. Tiger opted for a home run swing, and sent his opening gambit a little long. He executed his set-up shot well, however, leaving himself with a low stress par putt from fewer than three feet away to keep his pace.
There was plenty of tactic diversity at the 13th hole. Woods went long, Mickelson went short, and Fowler tried to go to the side and ended up in a sand pit. Rickie couldn't recover and ended up bogeying for the second time in three holes, while Mickelson parred out to stay even.
Hole 14- Par 4: Par, -1 for day, -1 for tournament
He's into it now. After a too-strong second shot left him 50 feet north of the goal, Tiger chipped nicely to get back to within striking distance, and picked up a putt from nearly 16 feet south, his second-longest out shot of the afternoon, to keep his pace, and capped off his clutch make with a fist pump.
For his part, Fowler navigated some tough terrain to make out a par, but Mickelson struggled, recording a double bogey to move to two-over, three strokes behind Tiger for the group lead.
Hole 15- Par 4: Bogey, E for day, E for tournament
Trying to keep pace on two partners that are suddenly struggling, Tiger tried to pull the tee shot onto the left fairway but left it a little short, falling into the sand in the middle of the course. He successfully got back onto the fairway with his second shot and set up a six-foot par putt fairly well with a bouncing shot to his left side, but hit his bid a bit too strong and back across to the left. Deliberate and frustrated, he moved back across the green and tapped in for bogey and an even score for the day.
Mickelson missed a putt and finished with a bogey, falling to three-over, but Fowler made an impressive putt from 20 feet out for birdie, getting a lucky rim roll for the first time today, moving him back to even and a tie with Woods.
Hole 16- Par 5: Birdie, -1 for day, -1 for tournament
Now level with Fowler for the group lead, Woods teed off on 16 with a fine shot onto the fairway, and got a little unlucky as his second shot bounced around and caromed down the slope around the green and onto a collection area. But he recovered expertly, wedging back onto the green, placing his third shot just two feet away from the hole. From there, it wasn't hard for him to secure his third under hole of the afternoon and move back into the negatives.
It's fair to wonder how far Fowler would be ahead of this grouping had he gotten a little more luck. Regardless, he got a little unlucky again and picked up another par to stay even, while Mickelson had no luck at all, shooting into the water en route to his second double bogey in the last three holes.
Hole 17- Par 3: Par, -1 for day, -1 for tournament
The 17th hole has been a hell for many today (see: Hideki Matsuyama), and this star-studded group fell victim as well. Both Fowler, who went long, and Mickelson, who went short, hit into the water encircling the target area, leaving only Woods on the green after one shot, but only barely: it nearly rolled through the back rough and into the surf. Roughly 66 feet from the target, Woods set himself up beautifully with his second shot and tucked in a 3.5 foot putt for par with little hassle.
All it takes is one mistake. One shot into the water cost both Fowler and Mickelson two strokes, while Woods turned in a par to move three strokes ahead of Fowler and eight ahead of a rapidly fading Mickelson with one hole to go.
Hole 18- Par 4: Bogey, E for day, E for tournament
Well, lesson not learned. After watching his groupmates get drenched by the water on 17, Woods started off 18 by lining into the drink, seemingly dissolving any momentum he may have accrued. But in another prime example of his resolve in today's workmanlike effort, Woods set himself up with an 11 foot shot for bogey, which he never looked like missing, capping off a 72 score on what truly was a solid opening day of work.
There still wasn't much for Mickelson to cheer about, as he missed a chance to birdie and salvage at least a little something from a disastrous back nine. He finished +7 on the day while Fowler recovered from a poor first shot to notch a par of his own and finish up an up-and-down day at +2.