Woods got his Players Championship off to a nice start with a 70 that included an early snap-hook into the trees, a slice into a water hazard and six birdies.

By Daniel Rapaport
March 14, 2019

It didn’t start well, and it often wasn’t pretty, but here’s what it was: a two-under round on a windy afternoon at TPC Sawgrass. That will always suffice.

Tiger Woods got his Players Championship off to a nice start with a 70 that included an early snap-hook into the trees, a slice into a water hazard and six birdies, the last of which came at the famed island green 17th. A missed four-footer for par on 18 will leave him frustrated, but in the early stages, this round seemed like it was going to end up much worse

Woods started his day by hitting a drive into the trees, but a fortunate kickback toward the fairway helped him salvage a par on the opening hole. On the next tee, the par-5 second, he smothered a 3-wood into the left trees that ended up traveling only 188 yards. He would make par there again, but followed it up with a bogey at the par-3 third. At that point, it seemed like Woods might fight his swing for the rest of the day.

But he settled down nicely, found fairways toward the end of the front nine and generally looked comfortable on Sawgrass’ Bermuda greens. That’s notable for two reasons—first, because Woods has struggled with his putting thus far in 2019, and second, because he was seen working with putting instructor Matt Killen early in the week. Woods made confident strokes in converting five birdies on the back side.

He did make three bogeys on the back, the most surprising of which came after a perfect drive at the par-5 11th. Woods sliced a fairway wood into the water and couldn’t get up and down for par.

There was some doubt as to whether Woods would even play this tournament, where a T11 finish last year kicked this latest comeback into gear. Woods, a two-time Players champion, pulled out of last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational with a strained neck. But he arrived to Sawgrass on schedule and said his neck was feeling good.

Woods will tee off his second round off the 10th tee at 8:32 a.m. ET. Below is a hole-by-hole recap of the round, including highlights and analysis.

Hole 18, par 4 — Bogey, -2 for the day

A frustrating, but somehow fitting, end to a roller coaster day. Tiger hit a draw with a fairway wood into the middle of the fairway, then hit a short iron that landed on the green but rolled long. Woods hit a bump-and-run chip from there that rolled out to about four feet, but he couldn't convert the par effort. That's a disappointing bogey to end the day, but it's still a two-under 70.

Hole 17, par 3 — Birdie, -3 for the day

Another one! Woods cut it close with his tee shot to the island green, just barely carrying the water and finding the front edge. That actually left him in a good spot to putt from. His uphill, right-to-lefter was dead center and he is somehow, someway, three under for the round.

Hole 16, par 5 — Birdie, -2 for day

Now that’s how you play a par 5—towering driver down the center, then a butter cut fairway wood to the center of the green. That second shot was gutsy, with water eight. Two putts from there and Woods gets back to two under heading to the infamous 17th. 

Hole 15, par 4 — Par, -1 for day

Man, he just keeps getting breaks after errant tee shots. This time it was left again, just like one and two, and just like those holes it ricocheted to the right. But this one went way right, actually finishing in a fairway bunker right of the fairway. He found the green from there and two putted without incident to stay in red numbers heading into a par 5. Let's see if he can finally play one of the par 5s sensibly. 

Hole 14, par 4 — Bogey, -1 for day

The 14th hole at Sawgrass has historically eaten Tiger's lunch, and it struck again on Thursday. Woods blew a driver way right of the fairway, and it actually finished closer to a water hazard on 12 than the fairway. From there, he did one of his signature helicopter finishes and hit a cut that finished about 10 yards short of the green in the fairway. A solid chip from there that checked but rolled out to about eight feet, and the par putt broke early and slid by on the low side. That's a momentum-killing bogey, and this roller coaster round continues. 

Hole 13, par 3 — Birdie, -2 for day

Woods, who has struggled with his putting in 2019, was seen working with putting instructor Matt Killen early in the week. The early results are positive: Woods rolled in another 20 footer for birdie on the par 3 to get to two under for the day. He has already picked up more than two strokes on the field putting on Thursday. 

Hole 12, par 4 — Birdie, -1 for day

The 12th at Sawgrass is a driveable par 4 that doglegs slightly from right to left, encouraging players to play a slight draw and run it up the front of the green. Tiger took a fairway wood and actually hit a cut, starting his ball close to the water on the left before it curved back to the middle of the green. He had 32 feet for eagle and hit a really good putt that just slid by on the high side, leaving a stress-free birdie. The best kind. 

Hole 11, par 5 — Bogey, E for day

Woods has played the first three par 5s in one over par, which is atrocious. He found himself in good position yet again after finding the right first cut with his drive, but his fairway wood was a borderline slice and wasn't anywhere close to clearing the water hazard short of the hole. He dropped then, with his fourth, hit a solid wedge to about 10 feet but couldn't convert the par. You're not going to contend for any tournaments playing the par 5s over par, let alone win any. Woods will be kicking himself for letting those three scoring opportunities pass him. 

Hole 10, par 4 — Birdie, -1 for day

Into the red numbers, with a par 5 next. Woods found the right side of the fairway with a 3-wood then played a beautifully controlled iron from about 180 to about 17 feet below the hole. That left a straight-ish putt and it was true the whole way. He's now got some momentum, despite letting an opportunity go by at the 9th, and has a good chance to get another at the 11th. 

Hole 9, par 5 — Par, E for day

Disappointing to play the two par 5s on the front nine in even par. This one was particularly disappointing after a perfect drive and a solid fairway wood to just right of the green. He misjudged a flop shot from there and left himself just under 10 feet for birdie, but the effort slid by on the left. He turns in even-par 36 and needs to make some birdies to keep pace with the morning wave of players, many of whom took it low. 

Hole 8, par 3 — Par, E for day

Solid par on what might be the toughest hole at Sawgrass. From 233 yards into the wind, Woods clobbered a 3-iron to just short of the front edge then judged his 50-foot lag beautifully, leaving a tap in. He'll take a par every day on this hole, and he's 1/4 there. 

Hole 7, par 4 — Birdie, E for day

Finally, a birdie. Woods found the center with a driver and hit a short iron right at the flag, finishing about 15 feet below the hole. The right-to-left bender poured in over the front edge, prompting a smile from Woods. He's really steadied out the ball striking after a very shaky start and will now head to the difficult par-3 8th. 

Hole 6, par 4 — Par, +1 for day

Tiger went with a long-iron stinger that found the left side of the fairway, then tried to hit a cut that stayed out left a good 30 feet left of the flag. Another two putt and that's yet another par.

Hole 5, par 4 — Par, +1 for day

Two solid shots there, for the first time. A cut driver down the center and a mid iron to about 20 feet, right in the middle of the green. The birdie effort ran out of steam and slid by on the low side, but he's been a bit more solid over the last couple holes. 

Hole 4, par 4 — Par, +1 for day

First fairway of the day comes at the fourth, where he peeled a 3-metal right down the middle. That left a good look and angle to a back-right pin, with just a wedge in his hand, but it came up well short and below a ridge. He banged one from 35ish feet to four feet and converted the par effort. 

Hole 3, par 4 — Bogey, +1 for day

Officially a very shaky ballstriking start. Tiger went with 9-iron from 170ish yards on the downwind par 3 and came up a bit short and left. The ball then rolled down a slope, and he found himself with a bunker in between he and the elevated green. He had no chance to get it close, so Woods played safely into the center of the green to try to avoid double bogey. He would two putt from roughly 50 feet to make his 4.

Hole 2, par 5 — Par, E for day

Second straight tee shot misses left, and this one was way worse than the first. In fact, it was a straight up snap-hook with a 3 wood that hit trees quickly and didn't travel more than 190 yards. He was forced to lay up from there and hit a nice third to about 11 feet, giving himself a chance to make a birdie on what's playing as the easiest hole on the course thus far. But his left-to-right birdie effort slid by on the low side, leading to a disappointing par. 

Hole 1, par 4 — Par, E for day

Tiger went with driver off the par-4 1st and hit a high hook that looked destined for the trees/pine straw left of the fairway. The ball then ricocheted, ostensibly off a fan, into some light rough just off the short grass. A really fortunate break, but he still had a poor angle to a front-left pin. From there, he played a wedge safely to the middle of the green and two putted. A fine start, especially after the first drive. 

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