PONTE VEDRA BEACH (AP) — At this rate, Tiger Woods will be No. 1 for at least another week.
Four players have a chance to replace Woods atop the world ranking — Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar — at The Players Championship. Watson, in his first tournament since winning the Masters, was the only one to break 70 on a day built for low scoring.
“This is a golf course that doesn’t like me very much, and so for me to shoot under par, shoot in the 60s, is a great start,” Watson said after his 3-under 69. Watson would have to finish alone in second to even have a chance.
Scott could have moved ahead of Woods by not playing, though he never would have missed the flagship event of the PGA Tour. He needs at least 16th place, but the Australian now can only hope to make it to the weekend. He shot 77, his worst start at the TPC Sawgrass since his first year in 2002.
Any chance of even a mediocre round ended in the final round. Scott hit the par-5 16th green in two, only to three-putt for a par. Then, he dumped his tee shot into the water on the island-green 17th and made double bogey. He followed that with a tee shot into the water on the 18th for another double bogey.
Stenson hit into the water on the 17th and salvaged a bogey. Kuchar took double bogey on the 18th. They both shot 71.
Kuchar has to win for a shot at No. 1. Stenson would have to finish around sixth.
TURNAROUND: Geoff Ogilvy last week said his game had reached a point where he started thinking about making the cut if he started poorly on Thursday. There was something different about the opening round of The Players Championship.
Through five holes, he already was 4-over par on a day for low scoring.
“I really didn’t feel like I was playing that bad,” Ogilvy said. “I was more annoyed than anything else. I thought if I got somewhere near par by the end of the day I would have been in good shape. Don’t get me wrong. You wouldn’t have heard many positive words out of me on the sixth tee. But I knew I was playing all right.”
He just didn’t think he would sign for a 69 at the end of the day.
Ogilvy made seven birdies over his last 10 holes, a remarkable turnaround for a guy who hasn’t won in more than three years. The former U.S. Open champion has shown glimpses of progress. He was in the top 10 for much of the final round at Quail Hollow until three-putt bogeys on the last two holes dropped him into a tie for 14th.
A photo in the newspaper the next day showed a broken putter buried into the turf near a creek beyond the 18th hole.
Guess who it used to belong to?
Ogilvy had a new putter for the TPC Sawgrass. When asked if it was hard to find a new putter, he grinned and said, “No, they had lots in the bag.”
“I had an idea of what I wanted to do,” he said about a new putter. “I’ve got three or five in my bag that I travel with. Most guys do, unless you’re Steve Stricker.”
So no emotional attachment to the other putter? Another smile.
“It was emotional,” he said. “There wasn’t an attachment.”
LEFTY LAMENTS: When last seen on a golf course, Phil Mickelson couldn’t make a putt inside 4 feet and closed with a 76 at Quail Hollow, his highest score in the final round in nearly two years. Thursday at Sawgrass, he missed a 3-foot par putt on the first hole.
And it never got much better.
Mickelson had to take a penalty shot from a buried lie in the face of a bunker on the par-3 eighth hole, and he staggered home to a 75.
“There’s a lot of birdies out there,” Mickelson said. “It’s soft. There’s just a lot of birdies out there. Yeah, it’s a little disappointing and frustrating. I don’t feel like any parts of the game are bad. I just have a hard time seeing the ball go in the hole and getting it to go in the hole.”
Mickelson is off to the slowest start of his PGA Tour career, with no top 10s. He opened the season with a runner-up finish in Abu Dhabi on the European Tour.
“I’m not real worried about it,” Mickelson said. “It’s just not quite clicking right now.”
EARLY START: The last time one of Europe’s biggest stars was in the first group, Colin Montgomerie took it as a minor insult at Bay Hill.
Lee Westwood loved it at Sawgrass.
“I was a little bit surprised when I saw the draw and I was first out, but at the same point, delighted,” Westwood said after opening with a 67. “It’s probably been 21 years since I’ve been the first ball in the air at any tournament. But it was great. The play was fast, the golf course was perfect, the breeze … there was none. And it was really nice to be out there this morning. If they want to keep giving me first off, I’m happy with that.”
So happy that he hit his approach on No. 1 to about a foot from the hole.
AWKWARD TEES: Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy offered a new observation about the difficulty of Sawgrass — the tee boxes are misaligned.
“The tee boxes here all aim right,” Els said. “Pete Dye’s a genius, but he’s a sinister man. I’ve always felt uncomfortable on the tees here. I’ve got to get myself a little spot in front of me. I can’t just aim down the tee, because I’m aiming 20 yards right.”
Els opened with a 66.
McIlroy finished last with a 70 and saw the same thing.
“You’ve got tee boxes lining you up in wrong directions and you’re having to hit across a lot of fairways,” McIlroy said. “The depth perception is hard with the way the trees are. It’s a typical Pete Dye golf course. It’s just visually very awkward.”
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